Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Potpourri - March, 2015

MARYLAND SENATE

The announcement that long-time liberal Maryland Senator
Barbara Mikulski would retire in 2016 is another blow to
Democratic party hopes to regain control of the U.S. senate
next year. Although Maryland has been a reliable liberal
blue state for some time, Republican Larry Hogan won an
upset victory for governor in 2014, and the conservative party
has a potentially serious candidate for the seat. On the
Democratic side, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a rising
star in the national party, has already announced for the open
seat. At least two other liberal Maryland congressmen, Elijah
Cummings and Donna Edwards, could be formidable
candidates for the seat. Today, conservative physician Ben
Carson is running for president in 2014, and he has already
attracted unusual attention in his party’s grass roots, but
he is almost certain not to win the GOP presidential
nomination. On the other hand, Carson could be a very
formidable Republican senate nominee in 2016, especially
since Maryland has such a large black population. Not having
experience in elected office, his presidential ambitions are
now unfulfillable, but as a U.S. senator in 2020 or 2024, he
could be a much more serious candidate.

FLORIDA SENATE

Florida GOP Senator Mario Rubio seems on the brink of
announcing for president in 2016, but state law prevents him
from also being on the ballot for his re-election to the senate
that same year. This would create an open seat, and a
potential for a Democratic pick-up. Some observers note that
Rubio might indeed choose not to run for senate in 2016, and
if he loses the presidential nomination, run for Florida
governor in 2018. Democratic (18th C.D.) Congressman Patrick
Murphy is an early favorite to get the liberal party nod for an
open senate seat, and could be formidable. On the GOP side,
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is a likely
contender. Congressman Ron DiSantis (6th C.D.) and former
Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford are also serious
potential candidates.

KENTUCKY SENATE

Like Senator Rubio in Florida, GOP Senator Rand Paul of
Kentucky also is up for re-election in 2016 and is also almost
certain to be a candidate for president in the same year. As
in Florida, a candidate can only run for one federal office in
the same year. Unlike Mr. Rubio, Mr. Paul would have little
follow-up prospects if he lost the presidential nomination (now
likely) and gave up his senate seat.

NETANYAHU SPEECH

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave one of the
most historic and important speeches of the decade
when he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Calling the current U.S. position in the negotiations with
Iran a “bad deal,” Mr. Netanyahu delineated a lucid and
devastating argument. Understandably, President Obama
and his White House staff were upset to have their position
so effectively undermined, and went to great lengths, both
before and after Mr Netanyahu’s remarks, to diminish them.
Most commentators, however, afterwards cited the White
House ineptness in calling so much attention to the speech that
otherwise might have not reached so many Americans and thus
had such impact. With only days left to the deadline for an
agreement, it would appear that any successful negotiation that
does not much more permanently block development of Iranian
nuclear weapons will fail. [Congressional Republicans, so often
outwitted in public relations contests with the White House,
might learn a few lessons from Mr. Netanyahu (who attended
high school in Philadelpha and college in Boston).]


SENATE STALEMATE

Senate Democrats were successful once again in blocking
Republican attempts to vote on alternatives to U.S. immigration
policy through the funding bill for the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security. As I have previously suggested, this kind
of stalemate will continue until Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell and his colleagues find a way to prevent the
Democratic minority from blocking votes on key conservative
legislation. When the Democrats were in the majority, they
overcame such action by Republicans by abolishing the filibuster
device for similar legislation. With Republican and many
independent voters wanting the new senate GOP majority to
act effectively, it might be necessary for Mr. McConnell and
his caucus to adopt the very same rules the Democrats so
recently did.

HILLARYGATE?

The recent revelations that then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton used a private e-mail account instead of an official one
(as mandated by the law) has thrown her frontrunning presidential
campaign into some disorder. Most observers, including this one,
speculated that the controversy would soon blow over, but the
clumsiness of the handling of the matter by the Clinton
organization, and perhaps inherent weakness in her public image,
have given the affair some surprising legs. The fact that Mrs.
Clinton criticized the George W. Bush administration in 2007 (on
a video now being widely circulated) for having secret e-mail
accounts is making her actions all the more indefensible.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mostly Irrelevant

The CPAC event just concluded in Washington, DC has
proven, through its straw poll, to be another mostly
irrelevant marker in the presidential election cycle.
The winner of the straw poll was Kentucky Senator Rand
Paul. Coming in second was Wisconsin Governor Scott
Walker. Third and fourth were Texas Senator Ted Cruz
and Ben Carson. Only Mr. Walker has a serious chance
to win the nomination, but his finish at CPAC had already
been foreshadowed weeks before, following a speech he
made in Iowa, and in all of the recent polls. Coming in a
distant fifth at CPAC was the Republican frontrunner
former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Further down the list
was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potentially
serious contender, especially after the first debates and the
primary/caucus season begins.

The next GOP presidential campaign marker will be the
Iowa Straw Poll in Ames in August. This will be, as it has
been in the past, another mostly irrelevant event. In 2011,
the Straw Poll winner was Michele Bachmann who turned
out not to be a serious contender. The Straw Poll rarely is
won by the eventual GOP nominee.

A parade of self-promoting wannabes, such as Donald
Trump and Rick Santorum, will continue to win media
headlines in the coming months, and various other political
figures will attempt to rise about the lower tiers of the
field. It can be done. Scott Walker has already done this.
But the eventual nominee will be someone who can win
votes in the primaries and caucuses from the broader base
of the conservative Republican Party. And if that nominee
is to win the presidency in November, 2016, he or she will
need to win a majority of votes from the non-affiliated
independent voters in the nation. A good many, if not most,
of those voters are more centrist than the base voters of
either party, and that is why the serious contenders for
president do not come from the far right or the far left.

On the Democratic side, the party awaits the formal decision
of former New York Senator Hillary Clinton. She has been
the overwhelming frontrunner of her party for 2016 from
the beginning. Her image and her numbers have declined a
bit in recent months, and her “handlers” have thus kept her
out of the campaign spotlight, but her lead remains very
large. Only Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has
emerged as a potential threat, yet Mrs. Warren might not
even run.

There are two campaign seasons in the race for president of
the United States. The earlier and longer one is managed
with the cooperation of the political party activists and the
news media. It is usually an extended melodrama punctuated
by such events as the CPAC conference, the Iowa Straw Poll,
Jefferson dinners and talk shows where large numbers of
hopefuls attempt, with histrionics and bravado, to become
larger than life, and grab the notice of the relatively few folks
who are paying attention. The second campaign is the one
where voters increasingly pay attention, beginning with the
primaries and caucuses, and which climaxes on Election Day.

I don’t have to say which of these campaigns counts most.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Bibi" At The Crossroads

By now, most news-conscious Americans know that the prime
minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu (also known popularly
as “Bibi”), is scheduled to speak  soon to a joint session
of the U.S. Congress, having been invited to do so by Speaker of
the House John Boehner. They also know that this visit by the
Israeli prime minister is controversial because U.S. President
Barack Obama does not like “Bibi” (and vice versa) and holds
an unprecedented different view of the historical U.S.-Israeli
alliance, and because Mr. Boehner only informed the White
House of the invitation, and did not ask for permission.

Mr. Obama and his colleagues have also now made the looming
speech a domestic political issue in the U.S., with a few Democratic
congresspersons (about 20-plus) and U.S. senators (2) saying they
will boycott the speech. The White House has also leaked some
not-so-subtle threats that Mr. Netanyahu’s appearance will result
in retribution with U.S. policy in the Middle East.

This upcoming occasion has also become a domestic political
issue in Israel where Mr. Netanyahu’s party (and thus Mr.
Netanyahu himself) are running in a national election to retain
power of the Jewish state’s government.

It was the Israeli general election which the Obama White House
has been using as a public rationale for opposing the visit, saying
it should not happen during the election campaign. This would
seem reasonable except that Mr. Obama, as have so many
candidates of both U.S. major parties, went to Israel during his
presidential campaigns.

Those few Democrats who have threatened to boycott “Bibi’s”
speech all come from “safe” districts and states, and have
no concern about political consequences. Most Democrats
apparently will attend, not because they fear a backlash from
Jewish voters (a majority of which are liberal Democrats), but
because they fear a backlash from the very large and growing
pro-Israel Christian community.

Why is it that “Bibi” Netanyahu is so controversial among
liberal Democrats? Ostensibly it is because he does not support
the Obama administration and other liberal Democrats on their
solution to the Palestinian problem in the Middle East. But this
is in substance not valid because the Israeli prime minister does
support a two-state (Jewish and Palestinian) solution, as do most
Israelis. The key difference is that most Israelis, including Mr.
Netanyahu, want as a precondition the end of terror and attacks
on Israeli citizens, something the Palestinian Authority has so
far refused to do. Mr. Netanyahu also opposes the apparent
direction of Mr Obama’s negotiations with Iran over the latter’s
intention to build a nuclear bomb arsenal with which it could
threaten Israel’s existence (and even could threaten Europe).

So then, what is the real reason Mr. Obama and so many
Democrats, including Jewish Democrats, don’t like and oppose
“Bibi” Netanyau? The answer is simple and it is political,
Mr. Netanyahu is a genuine conservative, not only in foreign
policy, but very importantly, in domestic policy. Israel was
founded as a quasi-socialist state in 1948, and its earliest leaders,
such as David Ben Gurion, were lifelong socialists. More recently,
more and more free enterprise and democratic capitalism has
emerged in this Jewish state.  Menachem Begin was a conservative
prime minister (and also was the first Israeli leader to sign a peace
treaty with the Arabs), as were the Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel
Sharon. Mr. Netanyahu himself has been a conservative prime
minister for ten years.

“Bibi” Netanyahu is the Israeli equivalent of U.S. President
Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
(and earlier British Prime Minister Winston Churchill) --- all
figures who were once unpopular with the American left.
“Bibi” is generally regarded as a popular figure to most U.S.
conservatives who not only overwhelmingly support  the
U.S.-Israeli alliance, applaud most of Netanyahu's policies, but
also applaud the emergence of Israel as a major source of global
high tech research, new medical technology entrpreneurs and
medical technologies that have arisen during his tenure. He is
the true heir of early Zionist leaders Theodor Herzl and Vladimir
Jabotinsky who imagined a prosperous and free Jewish state
before and during the Holocaust (an event apparently forgotten
in Europe today).

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Sooner Or Later --- The Senate Eleven?

In January, 2015, eleven new Republican senators took their
oath of office. Nine of them had replaced Democratic
senators, and had given back the conservative party control
of the U.S. senate.

Since that time, the U.S. house has continued to pass legislation
consistent with its promises to voters in 2014, and sent this
legislation to the U.S. senate. In recent years, these actions
were futile because Democrats controlled the senate, and the
Democratic majority leader (Harry Reid) would not even allow
house-passed legislation to the floor of the senate. In 2015,
however, the Republicans hava clear control of the senate, and
there is an expectation that both houses could pass conservative
legislation and send it to Democratic President Obama (who
would then likely veto it). But unlike in previous actions, the
liberal Democrats, and not conservative Republicans, would
now be clearly seen as standing in the way of popular legislation.

From the Republican point of view, it has not worked out as
expected. Lacking a super majority of 60 votes, they could not
prevent the Democrat minority of 46 senators from preventing
a block of voting on certain kinds of legislation. This includes
the passage of a bill funding the U.S. department of homeland
security (DHS).

The U.S. house, under Speaker John Boehner, has passed a bill
funding DHS, but with a rider that prevents President Obama
from implementing his controversial immigration plan. Senate
Democrats are preventing this bill from being voted on (if it
were, it would pass). If a bill is not passed and signed by the
president in only a few days, DHS will run out of money. Most
of the important DHS services will continue, but eventually
DHS employees will have to be paid, or they will stop work.

Typical of the past several years, the liberal news media portrays
the Republicans of being responsible for “shutting down the
government,” even though in this case it is the Democrats who
are responsible for the stalemate.

To be fair, Republicans often did the same to liberal legislation
when they only controlled one house of the Congress.

The most important issue here is not the DHS funding, but how
the new senate GOP majority is going to resolve the impasse.
Mr. Boehner and his house colleagues have indicated that they
are not going to “bite the political bullet” and rescind their action
to satisfy the minority senate Democrats.

The complex and labyrinthine rules of the U.S. senate are more
complicated than this pundit can understand well enough to offer
a solution. But the senate Republicans, which include various
factions on a variety of important issues, are going to have to
figure out a resolution. They are not going to be bailed out by the
U.S. house. If they do not find a modus operandi this time, the
problem will only recur almost immediately with the next
important legislation.

I do have a suggestion. During the 2014 campaign, I had the
opportunity to interview and observe in action ten of the eleven
GOP senate freshman class. I have written that they are perhaps
the most remarkable and potentially capable freshman class
in memory. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, Senator Tom Cotton of
Arkansas, Senator, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senator
Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Senator Shelley Caputo of West
Virginia have already provoked headlines and begun to
make their mark, but Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota,
Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Senator Stephen Daines of
Montana, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Senator Ben
Sasse of Nebraska, Senator David Perdue of Georgia are each
quite capable of lending important efforts to a successful
Republican senate majority in this session.

Freshman senators are supposed to keep quiet and learn the
rules of the senate. I am suggesting that the circumstances are
so extraordinary that perhaps the freshman class should take a
more active role than usual, and help establish new ways, if not
new rules, to stop a prolonged stalemate on vital legislation.

The American people are watching, and I think the results of
2014 indicate clearly that the voters want action, and not more
stalemate in the nation's capital.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Valentine's Day Expanded?

Valentine's Day, February 14, is celebrated in may parts of the
world, but no where more than in the United Kingdom, where
it originated, and in the United States where more than a
hundred million cards are sent each year.

Although two Saint Valentines (Valentinius), both early
Christian martyrs, are cited as the origin of the annual
celebration, the holiday itself was invented in the Middle Ages
by the greatest English literary figure of the time, Geoffrey
Chaucer. The modern observance of sending cards and giving
gifts to loved ones originated in the middle of the 19th century
in England at about the same time of the emergence there of
the Industrial Revolution and the earliest appearance of postage
stamps.

It is not a legal holiday in the U.S., although it is followed by
Washington’s Birthday (now known as President’s Day) which
is. (It is the latter which will cause late-sent valentine cards to
arrive on February 17 or later this year.)

Valentine's Day is thus a cultural holiday (although a formal
feast day for Anglicans and other religious groups), and, as it
quickly became in England and the U.S., a large-scale
commercial holiday. Red-colored ads, laden with heart and
cupid motifs, have filled newspapers and other advertising
media for some weeks. Greeting card companies, chocolatiers
and florists understandably consider one of their biggest times
of the year.

Among the few who might feel ambivalent about the date are
those whose birthday also comes on February 14 (like my late
brother --- but our mother always made a special heart-shaped
birthday cake for him).

The holiday today is not only commercial, but also a day for
reaching out to loved ones and children. I would suggest that
it be expanded to be the day we celebrate the invention of the
internet
, the ultimate device (to date) for connecting friends,
family and strangers nearby and far away so easily and quickly,
and the (recently) endangered symbol of freedom in the world.
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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: New Thinking Necessary For 2016?

A number of pundits, including the incomparable Michael
Barone, have recently written about the evaporation of the
much-ballyhooed “new Democratic Party majority” that
was heralded in 2008 and thereafter not only by liberal
commentators, but some throw-in-the-towel conservatives
as well.

I agree with their general observation, but I would like to
suggest that voters, as well as pundits, need to suspend a
number of commonplaces about the electorate as we
approach the national presidential election in 2016.

To think “outside the political box” for the next cycle,
could have both positive and negative implications for both
major political parties.

One of the possible voter myths might be the generally
accepted notion that Democrats start out with a “lock” on
about 240 electoral votes (271 being necessary to win the
presidency). (This notion is usually accompanied by the
commonplace that the Republicans have an indefinite “lock”
on control of the U.S. house of representatives.) Both of these
notions are based on the evolving urban vs. rural demographic
division across the nation, as well as certain assumptions
about ethnic voting patterns. The 2014 national mid-term
elections tended to reinforce all of this, including the
assumption that the relatively low turnout in 2014 (which
helped Republicans) will be followed by a much greater voter
turnout in 2016 that will help Democrats, especially the
Democratic nominee.

Demographic patterns are powerful matters, and long-term
have historical validity, but like the weather also change
direction abruptly sometimes in the short-term for reasons
which cannot usually be anticipated.

Perhaps observers and analysts will resist most any
argument which challenges the very large base of votes for the
Democrats in the electoral college. The states of California,
New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin,
most of New England, Oregon and Washington have recently
been liberal voter strongholds, and there does not seem to be
obvious reasons why this will soon change, particularly in
2016. Most of these states have large urban centers and large
ethnic minorities which have recently voted Democratic.
On the other hand, voters in some of these states voted for
Republican statewide candidates in 2014, a phenomenon not
based on new voting patterns, but on the personalities and
local issues of the candidates.

This suggests that the selection of the Republican and
Democratic presidential nominees in 2016 might be more
critical than usual. No matter who the GOP nominated in 2008
and in 2012, they were not likely, for different reasons, to defeat
Barack Obama. In 1952 and 1956, no Democrat was going to
defeat Dwight Eisenhower; in 1984, no Democrat was going to
win over Ronald Reagan; and in 1996, no Republican could
defeat Bill Clinton.

Although I would argue that the momentum for 2016, with its
likely accumulation of “Obama fatigue” by mid-2016, favors
the Republicans, the dynamics and divisions in both major
parties, I would also argue, makes the November result less
likely to predict.

Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee at this
point. Assuming she runs and wins her party’s nomination,
she will almost certainly win most of her party base as well as
some independent voters who want to choose the first woman
president. But her hold on previously reliable Hispanic, Jewish
and Asian voters, as well as the kind of turnout from black
voters for Mr. Obama, is not guaranteed. Her general appeal to
independent voters is also in question.

Current GOP frontrunner Jeb Bush clearly would appeal to
many Hispanic voters, and likely would win Florida (won by
Obama in 2012). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with the
most charismatic personality in either party, could make
inroads in the North East (particularly in Pennsylvania) and
in the Mid-Atlantic states and among independent voters.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could have considerable
appeal in several midwestern states won by the Democratic
nominee in 2008 and 2012. Other conservative candidates, if
they won their party nomination, could also win in previously
liberal voting states, based on their individual appeal.  In the
same way, if the Republicans nominated a divisive presidential
candidate, the GOP could lose some traditionally Republican
states in 2016, and throw away any advantage they might have.

Much more than in congressional elections, the personality
and issues of the nominees in presidential elections can
overcome previous demographic patterns.

I am not yet prepared to suggest which Republican candidate
is likely to win the nomination in 2016, or which of them
brings the most electoral power to the table, but I do suggest
that certain electoral commonplaces might not hold when we
reach election day in November, 2016.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Deliberate Deception About Unemployment

Jim Clifton, the chairman and CEO of the Gallup Poll
organization, has just written an op ed stating flatly that
the current 5.6% “official” unemployment rate, put
forward by the Obama administration, is an outright lie.

The Prairie Editor, and many others, have been saying
this very same thing for more than a year.

The reason it is a lie is that the Obama administration,
using the Bureau of Labor Statistics measurement,
has conveniently and consciously deleted at least half the
unemployed workers in the U.S. because “they are no
longer seeking jobs” or are so hard-core unemployable
they cannot find a job. Removing them from the official
unemployment statistics does not make them in any way
“employed,” but it does make the unemployment statistics
look much better than they actually are.

Initially, I pointed this out as motivated by Mr. Obama
and his collaborators for purely political reasons prior to
the 2014 national midterm elections. It obviously did not
work as intended. Voters delivered a landslide rebuke to
Mr. Obama. Today, the continued use of this technique is
an attempt to deceive the public that the economy is in
better shape than it is.

How many are truly unemployed in the nation? We don’t
know for certain, but using the administration’s own
numbers of workers no longer counted out of work, it is
probably at least about double the 5.6% figure. It could
even be more.

Mr. Clifton, a high-profile observer of the national scene
from a politically neutral organization is to be applauded
for telling the truth, but his revelations should be neither a
surprise nor a shock to voters. It has been part of a
widespread cover-up of economic conditions in the nation
that includes the real-life fiscal consequences of Obamacare
(now becoming more and more evident), higher taxes and
increased federal regulations on small business.

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee
in 2016, will sooner rather than later have to decide whether
she endorses the administration numbers and its approach
to the domestic economy or not. Serious Republican
presidential contenders, hitherto silent on this subject, will
also have to decide if they are willing to be candid about
this issue.

If the mask of this public deception is not removed, a solution
to a very serious national problem will continue to be delayed,
and millions of Americans will not have jobs.

[ADDITION TO THIS POST ON FEBRUARY 7, 2015:
Some readers have written to The Prairie Editor to point out
that the unemployment measure used by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics is not new with the Obama administration, but has
been used for several decades under both Democratic and
Republican administrations. To be fair to Mr. Obama, he did
not originate this measure, and it would be unfair to imply
that he did. This, however, does not in any way lessen the
degree of deception that the statistic implies, nor does it excuse
Mr. Obama for perpetuating its misleading nature.   It will be 
up to a future administration to require a more transparent and
accurate measure of unemployment.]

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.