Tuesday, May 22, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: France's Secret Asset

The nation of France is not the largest sovereign country in
the world in population or size. In fact, it ranks relatively low
in these key categories.

But it is the second largest nation in an important, yet often
neglected, category.

France controls vast areas of the world’s international waters
in virtually all parts of the globe. In fact, it legally controls
millions of square nautical miles in the Atlantic, Pacific Indian
and Antarctic Oceans, as well as in the Caribbean and
Mediterranean Seas. This means that it owns the resources,
including undersea oil, gas and mineral reserves

Until recently, this did not seem that valuable. But new
technologies now enable drilling and mining in deep waters ---
and such nations as the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico, Great
Britain in the North Sea, and Israel in the western
Mediterranean have reaped the bonanza of billions of dollars
from their offshore operations. Newer technologies for even
deeper and more complicated undersea mining are now
presumably being developed.

Like virtually all the great colonial powers in the 16th, 17th,
18th and 19th centuries, France had to give up its many land
colonies in North and South America, Africa and Asia in the
20th century. But while Great Britain, Portugal, Germany,
Italy, Belgium and the Dutch surrendered virtually all of their
"confiscated" territories, and gave them independence, the
French transformed some of its larger island colonies into
full-fledged departments (equivalent of U.S states) with full
French citizenship and voting representation in the French
parliament.

Its shrewdest diplomatic gambit, however, was to hold on to
and claim several tiny (and sometimes uninhabited) islands
scattered in remote areas of the world’s oceans. With the
global agreement (not yet signed by all nations) known as the
Law Of The Sea, nations which owned small islands could
claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for 200 nautical
miles offshore in all directions. 

One colorful example, Clipperton Island (actually an atoll)
located about 700 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico in the
Pacific Ocean, demonstrates what a secret asset it might be
to France.

Clipperton Island (also known as Island of Desire) has only
about two square miles of land ringing a lagoon, is
uninhabited with almost no vegetation and little animal life
other than crabs and birds. It has a dark history --- it is
named after an 18th century English pirate who landed
there; was discovered by the French in 1711; and in 1906 was
occupied by Mexican settlers who, after being abandoned
during the Mexican civil war suffered one of the more
gruesome and depraved experiences of that era before its
few survivors were rescued.

It has no known resources, no tourist facilities, and is located
in the middle of nowhere, far from any shipping or air routes.

But Clipperton Island has one very big asset.

It entitles France to control the economic resources for
approximately 185,000 square miles around the atoll.
Until now, that did not mean very much. But it could mean a
great deal in the future when undersea resources can be
easily exploited.

By the way, I said that  France was the second largest nation
in area of international waters sovereignty. The largest?

Surprise! The United States of America.

For more than a century, the U.S. received trusteeship or
ownership of numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well
as in the Caribbean and Bering Sea, not to mention Hawaii and
the rights off its three coasts and Alaska --- and in the
Arctic and Antarctic.

Apparently, its small islands are mostly a secret, too.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

THE PRAiRIE EDITOR: What If There Is No Wave --- Blue or Red?

The presumption has been --- in the lead-up to date to the 2018
mid-term election cycle --- that voters would turn out so heavily
for one side or the other that it would be a so-called “wave”
election with many U.S. house and senate seats being taken from
incumbents. Pundits and other political observers have mostly
forecast a “blue” wave for the Democrats who, inspired by their
anger about the Trump administration, would take back control
of the U.S. house and lose almost no net seats in the U.S. senate,
as well as make significant gains in races for state governors and
legislatures.

Fewer commentators have argued, to the contrary, that 2018 will
produce a surprise “red” wave for the Republicans, led by a
booming economy, continued lower unemployment, and a series
of President Trump foreign policy and trade successes over the
summer. Such a wave would keep U.S. house losses to less than
10, pick up 6-10 U.S. senate seats, and maintain the huge GOP
dominance in the states.

The optimism of these opposing forecasts might be assumed by
their partisans and their sympathetic media, but so far these
outcomes are not supported by much hard evidence.

Of course, 2018 might yet produce a wave election, blue or red,
as has happened with some frequency in recent cycles, but it
might be politically prudent to consider what would happen if
there was no wave this year, but a mixed result.

What would that look like?

I suggest it would result in continuing Republican control of
the U.S. house, but by a reduced margin. Democrats
would win close races where anti-Trump sentiment is strong,
but lose those where the president still has support. The GOP
would pick up a few U.S. senate seats, but far fewer than they
might have, considering the mathematical advantage they have
this cycle. Close races for state governors and legislatures
would be determined almost everywhere by local conditions
and the relative quality of the candidates in each contest.
Waking up the day after such an election cycle, it would be
difficult to assert credibly a clear pattern of the national voter
mood.

It is true that huge sums of money are going to be spent by
the candidates, their parties, and the proliferating PACS on
both sides. It is also inevitable that media coverage of the
election will be as bitter and biased as it has been for some
time. Everyone’s mailbox, TV screen, internet inbox and car
radio will be overloaded with voluminous political advertising.

These efforts could induce a wave, or they could provoke a
voter backlash.

If the quality of polling in recent cycles is repeated, it could be
quite difficult to discern a voter trend in close races until just
before election day. Even exit polls are now suspect.

Each party goes into the election with some serious problems.
Democrats are divided between mainstream liberals and those
who want to take the party to the left. Republicans are divided
in Washington, DC where they control the Congress by 
mainstream conservatives and those further to the right who
are preventing key legislation.

Behind it all is the extraordinary and disruptive personality of
President Trump who invokes passionate antipathy among
most Democrats and passionate support among most
Republicans.

It is likely, considering the powerful emotions felt by loyalists
on both sides, they will  predictably be voting for their own
party’s candidates in November --- all the coming political
gimmickry notwithstanding. It is also likely their turnout will
be strong.

But those voters who belong to no party, or have only weak
ties to one party or the other --- what will they do next
November?

Are they 5% or 10% or 20% of the electorate --- or less or
more? How many are they and what they will do --- those
are the key questions of this political year --- and their
answers will tell us whether or not there will be any kind
of wave.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is There A Trend Yet?

Any pundit is eager to be able  to alert his or her readers to news
of an emerging political trend, especially if the trend is credibly
to a big electoral wave, red or blue, The temptation is considerable
to be the first to herald a sensational outcome at the polls .

Most cycles the signs come relatively early. This was true in he
mid-term elections of 2010 and 2014 when voter dissatisfaction
with Obama administration policies (but not with Mr. Obama
personally) foreshadowed Republican gains. Of course, many in
the media turned their eyes from the voter signals --- and saw
only that the president was still relatively popular. In 2016, with
no incumbent in the presidential contest, the mis-reading by many
observers was epic and historic.

Now we are less than six months from the 2018 mid-terms, the
primary season is underway, and the irresistible search for
political omens is on.

So far, however, the omens appear to be mixed and contradictory.
Democrats have done well in most special elections, but have
actually won few of them, Their general opposition to the
Trump presidency does give them energy and motivation to go
to the polls. But Republicans seem to be sticking with their
support of the president, and the early primaries can be seen
to foretell strong conservative turnout in November as well.

The Democrats have a clear advantage to make big gains in the
U.S. house --- as the Republicans have a big advantage in expand
their now slim control of the U.S. senate. These advantages have
not so far been diminished by the early primary voting.

In  California, liberal prospects are complicated by state law
which requires the two top votegetters in a primary, regardless
of party, to be on the November ballot. This has put at risk
several likely Democratic pick-ups in Congress there because so
many Democrats are running in some primaries that it is quite
possible that only Republicans will be on the ballot in those
races on election day. The reverse is true in the race for
California governor in which there might only be two Democrats
on the ballot --- thus denying conservatives top-of-the-ticket
motivation for their voters. This would also likely dampen GOP
turnout overall --- a serious handicap to winning down-ballot
races.

Primaries in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia heartened
Republicans generally as voters nominated strong U.S. senate
challengers, but the Democrats still have the advantage of
incumbency in those states.

Minnesota’s primary is not until August, but the state has
non-binding endorsing conventions before that, and this
process has muddied several races. The state has the unique
distinction nationally of having two U.S. senate seats on the
ballot in 2018 (one of which is competitive), four very close
U.S. house races (half the state’s entire delegation), and an
open contest for governor that could resound nationally.

Important state primaries are ahead. Montana, Wisconsin
and Michigan have key GOP senate primaries. A gubernatorial
controversy in Missouri still affects that potential GOP senate
pick-up opportunity.

President Trump looms over the 2018 election in spite of not
being on the ballot The North Korean crisis in on-again then
off-again, the Middle East is in perpetual motion and new
global trade agreements are yet unfinished.

The Democrats continue to be pulled to the left by grass
roots forces. Four members of the socialist party in
Pennsylvania, running as Democrats, just won state house
primaries --- and are likely to win in November. That has
excited the more radical wing of the party, but has not
likely helped more moderate Democrats running in other
Pennsylvania races.

Far right Republican candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin
and other states present their party with a similar
problem.

The vital difference, bottom line, can be put to the relative
quality of the candidates in competitive races this year.
The hype so far predicting a political wave, either blue or
red, may turn out to be just political smoke in the end.
The political party which does best might be the party
which recruited and nominated the better candidates.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Trump Tide?

In only a matter of a few days, what was heralded as a coming
Republican electoral nightmare (a/k/a a 2018 blue tide) has
been awakened into another and contrary reality, a dramatic
political reversal on the horizon in the form of an incoming
Trump tide.

With unemployment falling to recent historic lows (especially
among hardest hit communities of blacks and Hispanics), a
rising stock market, early positive effects from the 2017 tax
reform legislation, and a remarkable series of potential
triumphs in foreign policy, President Donald Trump is leading
his party back from the edge of mid-term election disaster as
he takes command of the domestic and international stage.

While most of the nation slept on Wednesday night, the
president and first lady, and the vice president, welcomed
home from North Korea Secretary of State Pompeo and three
freed Americans from North Korean imprisonment. Thursday
morning, the world awakened to a remarkable diplomatic U.S.
triumph as the president also announced that he would meet
with the North Korean leader in Singapore in June.

In contrast with the two presidents who preceded him, Mr.
Trump did not declare “Mission Accomplished!” (George W.
Bush), nor did he fail to bring the Korean dictator to the
bargaining table (Barack Obama). Instead, the president
cautioned that the freed U.S. prisoners and the date and place
of the summit were only a beginning.

A day before, in several key primaries, Republican voters
avoided past political mistakes, and nominated their strongest
candidates in three key 2018 U.S. senate races against
vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Conservative turnout was
strong in spite of this cycle not holding a presidential election.
But again, no final result was achieved --- November is five
months away.

Coming up, the president will attend the formal opening of
his historic action of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to
Jerusalem --- something promised by many U.S. presidents,
both Democratic and Republican, but not done.

At the same time, the president ended a unpopular Iran deal
that wasn’t working --- in spite of opposition from many
European allies who who were placing their economic
interests above Middle East security. Once more, the aftermath
of this strategic move has not yet played out, but it is now
clear that U.S. passivity in the world is over.

Finally, in spite of almost universal criticism of threatened
U.S tariffs in readjusting global trade agreements, President
Trump’s initiatives are beginning to obtain concessions
and welcome changes from trading partners. Again,
negotiations are still underway, and it’s too early to declare
victories.

For months, I have been cautioning that the optimistic liberal
narratives of a blue wave that would lead to a Democratic
takeover of the U.S. house and widespread other victories for
the liberal party were premature. Not necessarily wrong, but
premature.

Now I caution Republicans and conservatives that current
good news for their party and their president does not mean
there will be a certain red wave in November.

Many days and many events are yet to take place before
Americans cast their votes this year. Dreams, media fantasies,
wishful thinking, polls, and nightmares do not make an election.

Voters do.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Monday, May 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Very High Stakes Governor's Race

The third and final act of the Minnesota 2018 election grand
opera is the race for governor. National party strategists and
pundits will be paying much more attention to Acts I and II,
i.e., the close races for U.S. house and senate that are making
this state so important to whom will control Congress in the
next term, but the contest that will likely have the most
impact will be the one that will choose the next state chief
executive.

Both major parties face possible primary contests for their
gubernatorial nomination. Democratic (DFL) frontrunner,
retiring Congressman Tim Walz, faces two major challengers
in retiring State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Erin Murphy, a
state representative. The affable Mr. Walz is hoping for party
endorsement at the June state DFL convention, but might have
to face a competitive August primary. On the GOP side, former
Governor Tim Pawlenty entered the race only a month ago, but
has already raised far more campaign funds than his only
remaining major opponent, 2014 gubernatorial nominee Jeff
Johnson. Johnson has worked to gain support among party
convention delegates for months, and wins straw polls at the
district level, but these activists  represent less than 1% of the
state Republican electorate. Johnson failed to win this race four
years ago, but Pawlenty has won it twice, albeit by only a
plurality with a major third party candidates on both ballots.

With his early start, Johnson could be endorsed at the state
GOP convention, but recent past DFL and GOP endorsees
have subsequently lost their party nomination in the
statewide primary.

Republicans control both the house and senate in the state
legislature now, and are expected to keep control for the next
session. But their margin in the senate is only one seat (no state
senate seats are up for election this year). Their margin in the
state house is comfortable, but not necessarily safe should
there be a DFL wave this cycle.

There could also be a GOP wave in Minnesota in 2018.

Retiring DFL Governor Mark Dayton has raised state taxes
until very recently. Failures in state medical insurance and
auto license systems have plagued his administration. His
initial popularity has declined. As his would-be successor,
Tim Walz has to decide whether he will offer more of the same
to voters, or take his party in a new direction. As is happening
nationally, Bernie Sanders DFLers, personified by Minneapolis
Congressman Keith Ellison (one of the few in Congress who
supported the Sanders presidential bid), are lobbying at the
grass roots level to move the DFL even further to the left. But
much of Walz support comes from those who want to expand
the DFL base into suburban and rural Minnesota where the
party has recently been weak, and leftist notions are not
popular.

Tim Pawlenty has spent the years since he left politics (after his
unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012) as a highly paid
executive for a nationao financial services industry advocacy
group. His opponents are predictably trying to paint him as a DC
lobbyist. His defenders reply that this industry has a reported
200,000 workers throughout Minnesota --- and that this is a vital
industry in the economy. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
he denounced candidate Donald Trump after a controversial
video was a released. Pawlenty says he did this as the father of
two daughters, and who felt Trump’s remarks on the video were
extremely inappropriate, but that he voted for Trump and now
agrees with many of his policies. Do Trump supporters outstate
want an early Trump supporter or a later Trump supporter who
is much more likely to win? The answer to that question will be
key. Pawlenty’s first two terms had some mixed results. He will
now have to make the case that his third term will be better, A
veteran of the state legislature (he was once house majority
leader). Pawlenty argues he is a forward-thinking pragmatist
who knows how to get things done. He has come out swinging
against the failures of the Dayton administration.

Recent reports by state conservative think tanks allege that DFL
tax and education policies are driving families and businesses
out of the state. Public employee unions are also a powerful
part of the Minnesota DFL, and (as in neighboring Wisconsin)
this could be a major issue in the governor’s race. Mining and
environmental issues have helped turn northeastern Minnesota
(especially the mineral-rich area called The Range) from a past
reliably large DFL majority to giving GOP candidate Trump a
16-point margin in 2016.

The DFL still has large majorities in the state’s two largest cities
of St. Paul and Minneapolis. With labor union money and an
experienced GOTV organization, plus the natural energy from
liberal antipathy to Donald Trump, the Democrats in Minnesota
remain a formidable force, but Republicans now have a  strong
voter ID and GOTV effort. So many close races this year gives
them an energy of their own

Unemployment is currently low in the state, and other economic
conditions here, as will be true in the rest of the nation, will play
an important role in the 2018 election, especially in the race for
governor, because the two major Minnesota political parties have
such different visions of how the state should be run.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

--------------------------------------------------------------
SPECIAL NOTE TO FIRST-TIME READERS:
The Prairie Editor is a subscription website. You are welcome
to use this visit with our compliments. Should you wish to
receive this commentary on national and international
politics and public policy for the next year, including alerts for
each new article plus subscriber-only articles and bulletins,
please scroll down on the right to the "SUBSCRIBE" button,
click on it, and pay the annual fee with your credit card on 
Paypal. Please consider joining our community of readers!              

Thursday, May 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Minnesota Political Opera

Like a classical grand opera, the 2018 elections in Minnesota
have three acts.

Act I --- the competitive U.S. house races were recently surveyed
on these pages. It is time to take an updated look at Act II --- the
competitive U.S. senate race.

There are actually two U.S. senate races in this state this cycle
because Al Franken unexpectedly resigned last year. The
Minnesota governor then appointed his lt. governor, Tina Smith,
to fill the seat until this November when a special election would
be held Franken would have run for re-election in 2020).

Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat (DFL), is normally up
for re-election in 2018. This would be her third term. As the most
popular DFL figure in the state, she is not expected to have a
serious contest.

But, as it appears now, Tina Smith is in for a competitive contest
from State Senator Karin Housely, a Republican. The question is,
with two generally unknown statewide candidates, just how
competitive will this race be?

Senator Smith has considerable experience behind-the-scenes in
local and state politics. She not only has been a successful
campaign manager, she has served as chief of staff to a former
Minneapolis mayor and to the current governor, Mark Dayton.
Her election at lt. governor in 2014 was as part of the DFL ticket
overshadowed by Dayton. Like many political staff members,
she works easily with the boss, and fellow staff, but does not
necessarily have an outgoing style of relating to voters. As an
appointee only months before the special election, she needs to
campaign heavily to become better known. Her dilemma is that
she also must appear to be working hard in her new job, including
casting votes that will keep her in Washington, DC most of the
spring and summer. (In 1978, a popular, but appointed, Minnesota
senator missed many votes in order to campaign, and it led to his
surprise defeat at the polls that year.)

If Tina Smith can be characterized as more private and a bit shy,
her likely Republican opponent, Karin Housely, could be described
as ebullient and outgoing. With a background in business and
experience in the state senate, she has local credentials, but a small
resume for national politics. When she announced her candidacy, it
was greeted by some skepticism among several GOP insiders.
Her initial efforts, however, including her recent legislative
efforts on behalf of the state’s elderly, has improved hopes of many
conservatives --- although Senator Smith remains, for now, a slight
favorite in November.

Other factors could affect the outcome of this race, especially if the
final vote is close. The DFL contest just added a challenger, a former
Republican who is very critical of President Trump. But neither he
nor any GOP challenger to Senator Housely is likely to win an
endorsement in June nor a nomination in August. A strong
independent candidate on the left or the right, on the other hand,
could be a factor in November if the race is tight.

The economy and President Trump’s’s popularity in late October
could be bigger factors, as could the relative merits of the two
campaign organizations and their fundraising. Senator Smith has,
so far, raised more money.

With so much at stake for the Trump administration agenda and
the Democratic Party’s hopes for 2020, there will be considerable
outside financial input from both national party campaigns and
national conservative and liberal PACs.

Finally. the Minnesota voters’ historic tendency for ticket-splitting
could be crucial --- with two senate seats up this cycle.

Act II of this electoral Minnesota opera, just as Act I, will also
draw plenty of national media attention for its numerous
possible pick-ups and national impact. But Act III --- a critical
race for governor --- could prove to be the state’s most
significant race of all. More about that soon.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.                                                                                                                                                                     

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A British Trump --- 175 Years Ago!

About 175 years ago, a political figure emerged in Great Britain who, in
many ways, could be uncannily compared to Donald Trump.

When it comes to earlier British political leaders, most Americans only
know a few names such as Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone and
Winston Churchill. A few more know the names of William Pitt and
Lloyd George. But there were many more distinguished leaders largely
unknown on this side of the Pond, including reformer and friend of
Abraham Lincoln, John Bright. (Bright did not become prime minister,
but had a huge impact on the mid-19th century United Kingdom.)

There was also an enormously significant leader who served for many
years as foreign minister and prime minister , and who had much to do
with Great Britain becoming  the world power after the defeat of
Napoleon.

His name was Henry John Temple, the 3rd Viscount of Palmerston,
but he is remembered in history simply as Lord Palmerston. He lived
from 1784 to 1865. His public life lasted from 1807 until he died, and
from the 1830s on he was the principal foreign policy influence on his
nation.

His policy might be summed up as "make Britain great again!”
Partly as a result of his leadership, his small island nation became the
most significant sea power in the world, and its colonial empire the
largest in the world.

He was not universally popular, and had many political critics and
enemies. Although born into the British aristocracy, he disrupted the
British establishment of his time, and was not even a favorite of
Queen Victoria, the British monarch virtually all of the time he was
in power.

Although much of his foreign policy seemed belligerent and
controversial, he masterfully controlled British public opinion by
stimulating British nationalism.

He attended the University of Edinburgh (the Wharton School of
that time) where he studied under influential Scottish economist
Dugald Stewart, who wrote and lectured about Adam Smith (the
Milton Friedman of that time).

His characteristic strategies were brinkmanship and bluff, and he
frequently threatened war to achieve his ends. He was often
tendentiously outspoken.

Unlike John Bright, he did not support the North in the U.S. Civil
War, but Britain did not recognize the Confederacy in spite of
there being so many British sympathizers with the South.

The era which followed his death produced two great prime
ministers, Gladstone (who Palmerston brought into politics) and
Disraeli, the leader of the opposition party.  A peak in the power
and dimensions of the British empire was realized after
Palmerston left the political stage, but he had been significantly
responsible for its rise.

Perhaps what Lord Palmerston is most remembered for today is
not his foreign policy (nor for his octogenarian philandering,) but
for his masterful management of the British media --- which in
those days meant the newspapers. Although most Victorian
prime ministers seemed to ignore the press, Palmerston was the
first to recognize the value of the press in influencing public
opinion.

Possibly it is the latter trait which most closely compares Lord
Palmerston to Donald Trump, the modern U.S. political master
manipulator of the media --- although, in Trump’s case (and in
contrast to Palmerston), most of the media are against him.

At about the same time, but slightly later, the first U.S.. president
to effectively use the media, Abraham Lincoln, appeared, but he
also took advantage of the then new invention of the telegraph, as
later, Franklin Roosevelt used the then new invention of radio, and
John Kennedy used television. Donald Trump, of course, uses the
internet and Twitter.

But it was an anti-establishment British aristocrat, Lord
Palmerston, who almost 200 years ago first disrupted public
opinion with controversy and bold headlines.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.