Monday, July 16, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump's Petty Blunder

I have, after initially dismissing him as a candidate, tried to be
fair to now-President Donald Trump. His political achievement
in 2016 was historic and undeniable. Since his inauguration, he
has enjoyed a series of political and diplomatic successes, some
of them in spite of his disruptive manner and others because of
it.

His public relations skills, denounced by most in the media and
approximately half the voters, are, like him or not, extraordinary.

There is also a certain and occasional pettiness which erupts
from the man. I publicly and strongly criticized his petty tweets
about such figures as John McCain and Tom Ridge during the
campaign, I have not liked nor defended a particular
diminishment of language that appears in his public speech
improvisations (but not, it should be noted, when he sticks to his
prepared remarks).

I have agreed with many of his policies, including the tax bill,
removing unnecessary regulations, putting the U.S. embassy in
Jerusalem, and daring to take diplomatic initiatives where
previous presidents of both parties failed to act.

His efforts to rebalance U.S. relationships with its friends,
allies and trading partners are, in the short term, disruptive and
uncomfortable --- but they are overdue and make sense in the
long term.

President Trump’s performance in Helsinki, however, particularly
in a press conference with President Vladimir Putin of Russia,
was simply and inexcusably a blunder.

Yes, the media has hounded him. Yes, his opponents have
personally attacked his family. But these do not justify or excuse
the mistake of putting down his own country and its interests to
spite his opponents and vent his grievances, real or imagined.

Russia might not be the “enemy” it was during the Cold War, but
it remains a rival and competitor with its own interests. Although
there is no real evidence yet of collusion, there can be little doubt
that Russians “hacked” into the U.S presidential campaign in
2016. Officials of the Trump administration agree. Both Russia
and the U.S. spy on each other. In fact, every major nation on
earth does espionage --- military, commercial and political. Why
pretend they don’t?

Donald Trump made a serious unforced error in Helsinki. He
needs to repair it, as some of his most supportive friends have
publicly said, and repair it promptly.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnewisowa, 2018

When I first identified and named the political megastate of
Minnewisowa (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) in 2004, it
was in the context of the presidential election in which it
cast as many electoral votes as several larger states. Because
these three contiguous states have so many demographic,
economic and historical elements in common, and tend to
vote politically alike, I came back to them in 2008 and 2012
when each voted for Barack Obama, and in 2016 when Iowa
and Wisconsin voted for Donald Trump, and Minnesota
voters. to almost everyone’s surprise, gave Hillary Clinton
only a few thousand votes more than they did for Mr. Trump.

Minnewisowa as a political entity is thus always quite
interesting to observe in presidential politics, but what about
the megastate in a mid-term election which has no electoral
votes? Although the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms produced some
dramatic results nationally, the components of Minnewisowa
saw relatively few surprises.

In 2018, this is not likely to be true. I have already written about
what a remarkable battleground state Minnesota is, with its
very competitive open race for governor, two U.S. senate seats
(one of which could be very close), and four very competitive
congressional races, half the state’s total congressional
delegation.

But there are some very interesting races in neighboring Iowa
and Wisconsin as well.

With the longest serving U.S. governor, Terry Branstad, now the
nation’s ambassador to China, Iowa Democrats are making a
serious effort to regain the state executive branch in Des Moines
this year. Their nominee is businessman Fred Hubbell. He will
challenge GOP Governor Kim Reynolds who, as lt. governor,
became governor when Branstad resigned. This will thus be
her first race for governor, and although this midwestern farm
state has been moving to the right in recent years, the race for
governor could be competitive. Two congressional seats now
held by Republicans are considered in play in 2018, IA-1 and
IA-3. Incumbent GOP Congressman Rod Blum in the 1st
district is considered quite vulnerable in a mid-term election
when the party out of power often makes big gains. The
liberals’ goal of taking back control of the U.S. house could be
much helped if they could take back one or two of these seats.

In Wisconsin, the key races are for governor and U.S. senator.
Incumbent GOP Governor Scott Walker has previously upset
Wisconsin Democrats and their union allies in Madison, and
they would like nothing better than to turn him out of office.
Mr. Walker looked more vulnerable earlier in the year, but he
has seemed to regain much of his popularity. Even so, this
could become quite competitive if a “blue wave” came to the
Badger State. Incumbent Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin
has been considered vulnerable this cycle. Her poll numbers
continue to be weak (a recent Marquette poll had her at only 41
favorable against 43 unfavorable), but so far, the Republicans
have not come up with a “star” challenger. The upcoming
Wisconsin primary on August 14 will decide if that opponent
will be party-endorsed (and Walker ally) State Senator Leah
Vukmer or the more conservative Kevin Williamson. After
the primary, this race could become quite interesting. The
very liberal Ms. Baldwin has already broken with national
Democrats on the demand to abolish I.C.E. --- a nod to the fact
that Donald Trump is still popular in this state. The president is
likely to make a campaign appearance in Wisconsin if the senate
race is close.

Mr. Trump has already campaigned in Minnesota’s 8th district
where likely GOP nominee Pete Stauber is considered the
favorite to pick up the Democratic (DFL) seat now held by the
retiring Rick Nolan (who is a candidate for lt. governor). Less
likely, but still rated a good chance to pick up another DFL seat,
is GOP party-endorsed Tom Hagedorn in the state’s 1st District
where DFL incumbent Congressman Tim Walz is retiring to run
for governor. But first, Hagedorn must win the August 15 primary
after an energetic challenge from GOP State Senator Carla
Nelson. The GOP winner of that primary must then defeat DFLer
Dan Feehan. The DFL hopes to pick up Republican seats in the
2nd and 3rd Districts. DFL challenger Angie Craig has a serious
chance to win in MN-2. DFL Senator Tina Smith was appointed
to replace Al Franken who resigned at the end of 2017, but is not
well-known statewide, and will likely face GOP State Senator
Karin Housely. Smith now has a strong financial advantage, but
Housely might be the stronger campaigner, and President Trump
might play a role in this race as he already has in MN-8. Finally,
the open governor’s race looks like a probable donnybrook.
Former two-term GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty is back after an
eight-year absence from St. Paul, and is the early favorite to win
the primary against the party-endorsed Jeff Johnson. On the
DFL side, two challengers to that party’s endorsed candidate for
governor, very liberal State Senator Erin Murphy, are retiring
Congressman Walz and retiring State Treasurer Lori Swanson.
The latter two challengers are leading Murphy in an early poll.
Although the Pawlenty-Johnson GOP gubernatorial race is now
heating up. there seems to be more disruption in the DFL
primaries this year, especially in the emergence of so many
radical urban candidates, and this could affect November
outcomes.

So Minnewisowa is very much in play in 2018, with likely bitter
contests just ahead that could  have big impact not only in the
mid-terms, but also could provide clues to what lies ahead in
2020 when Minnewisowa’s electoral votes will again be counted.

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The World In Recalibration

Only in a very tiny duration of time has the planet earth and its
human civilizations been truly interconnected, and to some
degree, interdependent.

The first true “world” war was the European-based Seven
Years War (1756-63), but although it reached peoples in far-away
places, it did not involve some very large and populous nations. 
The Napoleonic imperial period (1804-15) also touched distant
lands on other continents, but it wasn’t until World War I
(1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) that the effects of military
and economic actions in one place were truly felt worldwide.
After World War II, global warfare models were replaced by
global economic and trade models. Smaller and localized wars
occurred, but the dire consequences of a World War III, and the
use of nuclear weapons, has inhibited  aggressive actions to
mainly political and propaganda competitions such as the Cold
War (1946-90).

The Allied (primarily the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet
Union) victory in World War II was followed by a unique period
of reconstruction of not only the war ravages suffered by the
victors, but of the defeated Axis  powers (primarily Germany and
Japan) as well. Since the intention of the U.S. and Great Britain
(and most of their allies) was to create a  worldwide democratic and
capitalistic trade system, the Soviet Union, as a totalitarian and
communist regime, did not participate. but chose instead to try
to create a competing system. The latter’s ultimate failure was
not military, but it was economic.

This led to a short period of U.S. domination of political, military,
economic, trade and even cultural global affairs --- although
mainland China and India, the two most populous nations, as
well as several totalitarian and neo-Marxist nations emerged,
refusing to accept U.S. dominance.

By the time of September 11, 2001 came, that brief period of U.S.
hegemony was already crumbling. Global terrorism, originating
in the Middle East, only hastened a worldwide re-ordering that
recalibrated the relationships between the still-significant old
world powers such as the U.S., the European Union (led by
Germany and France) the United Kingdom (much reduced, but
still a global force), a reconstituted Russia, and less powerful but
still important nations such as Brazil, Japan, Canada.

During the years of Barack Obama’s presidency (2009-17), U.S.
foreign and economic policies became increasingly passive as it
gradually ceded its previous leadership role. At the same time,
China and India, as well as Russia and Iran became more and
more aggressive in the global arena.

The world is constantly recalibrating its resources and
relationships, but some periods are more intense than others.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has so far disrupted
the normal slow pace of these adjustments as he has insisted on
updating and renegotiating many post-World War II economic
and military institutions without some of the traditional
diplomatic niceties.

Many on all sides of the two major oceans are not pleased with
with Mr. Trump’s manner or demands, but he has, like him or
not, put the U.S. back into a central role in world affairs. As a
man of business, and not of politics, he has kept as pragmatic
an eye on the recalibration of trade and alliances as few, if any,
presidents have before him.

He is not alone in taking the initiative. President Xi of China has
his own national priorities in trade and geography. The European
Union, hitherto a third global economic force, is now beset by
internal crises and disputes, but still looms large. Economic
nationalism has been revived in many places.

Thinking in terms of only winners and losers in the global
recalibration might not be as useful and revealing as the
understanding of the terms and consequences of the global
political trading and positioning now taking place.

The bottom line is that there are new major players on the stage
of global economic trade and politics. The personalities making
up the casts of these players are inevitably of interest, but it is
always the weight of national strategic interests which ultimately
determines outcomes.

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Going Deep Or Off The Deep End?

Young writers are advised to avoid using slang, cliches and other
informal language in their writing, and this is generally good
advice. But there are occasions when such language provides the
right words to convey the writer’s meaning.

This is the case with the headline above.

It was understandable right after the surprising 2016 presidential
election that most Democrats and some Republicans, too, would
be shocked and dismayed by the results --- particularly the election
of Donald Trump. He had been perhaps the most unlikely
candidate for president in modern history, seemed to break all of
the conventional rules, and was poised to disrupt the political
establishments of both parties.

Between election night and inauguration day, the shock was
transformed into feckless attempts to undo the election, and
since he took office, efforts have been aimed at hopeless plans
for impeachment or resignation through investigations, fake
news, innuendo, rumors and attacks on the White House staff
and appointments by the president’s enemies and a hostile media.

To date, none of this has been successful. In fact, the president
and his party have had some notable successes and (to be fair) a
few failures.

There was a second major disappointment for many Democrats
in the 2016 campaign, the failure of avowed socialist Senator
Bernie Sanders to win the liberal party’s presidential nomination.
After the fact, it became clear that the Democratic Party
establishment, in its eagerness to nominate Hillary Clinton, had
not always played fair with the Sanders campaign in the primary
season and before its national convention.

After Mrs. Clinton’s upset loss, the Sanders/Elizabeth Warren
wing of the party moved quickly to take over, and they have
succeeded in many, but not all, liberal strongholds.

It is not just a takeover by new personalities, it is a dramatic
move of the party’s policy positions, by U.S. standards, to a
much more radical-than-usual direction --- positions which,
even measured by most Democratic pollsters, are supported
only by a minority of all U.S. voters.

In baseball lingo, the new way to describe hitting a home run is
“going deep.” For left wing, “progressive” Democrats, most of
them located in the large U.S. cities, the new policy politics of
free universal college education, Medicare for all, high minimum
wages, sanctuary cities, closing down I.C.E. and opening all
borders to unlimited immigration are each home runs that go
deep with the electorate.

Conservatives, most independents and many moderate liberals
feel these views, far from high-scoring hits with the public, are
instead “going off the deep end” --- or exactly the opposite --- by
turning off rural, small town, exurban and suburban voters who,
taken together, make up a large majority of the electorate.

One sign, and there are many others, that the dissenters above
are closer to reality are the recent and increasing warnings
coming from many senior Democratic and liberal strategists,
office holders and pundits --- all suggesting that the personal
attacks on the president and the espousal of more and more
radical public policies are backfiring --- and actually helping
the president and his party.

With the liberal media egging them on, and even some
conservatives joining in, the “progressives” seem to be ignoring
all such warnings.

We won’t know who is right until election day next November.

I may be wrong, but I think the radicals are transforming what
might indeed have been a “blue wave” in 2018 into a hitherto
unexpected wave of another color in the visible spectrum.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mexican Election

The discussion, so far, about the newly-elected Mexican president,
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known popularly as “AMLO”) is
only accurate and useful to a point. The former leftist mayor of
Mexico City has always run against the Mexican political and
economic establishments, and employs the usual Latin American
populist rhetoric in his campaigns, but his political personality
has a certain complexity.

As mayor (2000 to 2005) of one of the world’s largest cities
(population believed now to be more than 21 million), Sr. Obrador
remained very popular despite failing to fulfill most of his
campaign promises --- and despite scandals involving many who
worked for him. He subsequently ran for president in 2006 and
2012, losing by narrow margins both times. In 2012, he declared
himself president-elect, but was overruled by the national
electoral commission. This year,  however, he won in a landslide
with more than 50% of the total vote. The two more conservative
Mexican major parties were severely reduced in their total of the
national vote. His Morena Party also won the majority seats in
the Mexican Congress.

The current ruling party, PRI., saw its support virtually collapse
as Mexican voters were fed up with the endemic corruption and
rising violence of recent Mexican public and private life. For most
of the previous century, following the Mexican revolution, the
PRI had ruled the nation claiming to be the revolutionary party,
but in reality, it became a party of Mexican special interests. In
2000, the most conservative party (PAN) finally wrested control
from the PRI, and it narrowly was re-elected in 2006 under Felipe
Calderon. When he failed to deliver on his promise of reform, the
PRI was returned to power in 2012.

From there, almost everything in Mexico got worse.

Lopez Obrador is perhaps most accurately described as an
economic nationalist. Curiously, in this he resembles President
Trump. Like Trump, Lopez Obrador is also a critic of NAFTA.
and demanded during the campaign that the NAFTA negotiations
with the U.S and Canada be suspended until after the elections.
Allegations of scandal have arisen during much of his career, but
Lopez Obrador’s supporters have continued to support him,
believing the allegations against him to be groundless and
politically motivated --- another similarity he has with the
American president. Both leaders are pragmatists, and also
anti-establishment in their respective countries

On the other hand, there are important differences between the
two presidents. Lopez Obrador grew up in poverty and has
spent much of his adult life in politics. His populism and leftism
is very much in the tradition of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez
and other Hispanic American caudillos. He has always identified
himself with the large segment of the Mexican population which
is rural and poor. He has publicly opposed building a wall
between the two nations.

Although it is not being reported widely in the U.S., Lopez
Obrador is unusual among south-of-the-border populists in that
he does not blame the United States as a primary cause of
current Mexican woes. Instead, his focus has been on the
corruption of the PRI, Mexican government bureaucracy and
domestic business interests. In his first campaign for president
in 2006, he openly proclaimed his willingness to work with U.S.
leaders. He has already had his first private conversation with
President Trump, and both reported it was convivial. Of course,
difficult negotiations are ahead, Sr. Lopez Obrador and Mr.
Trump have very different expectations, for example, in the
looming NAFTA renegotiations.

According to John Davidson in a recent article in The Federalist,
Lopez Obrador’s populist rhetoric means very little. Davidson
argues that any Mexican president today has little power to
control the corruption, drug cartels and violence that
overshadows contemporary Mexican public and private life.

Mexico’s greatest poet and essayist Octavio Paz wrote in his
landmark book (1945) The Labyrinths of Solitude that Mexico
has a unique character, that its population is primarily
composed of those whose culture was originally indigenous,
but had the Spanish imperial culture superimposed on it. The
indigenous Aztec empire was advanced but also oppressive, and
following the decade of the Mexican civil war in 1910, individual
Mexicans rejected both imperial legacies and retreated into the
modern consciousness of personal solitude in their own way,
often masking their suffering and problems with stoicism and
violence. [Those wishing to understand Mexico better should
read this short book, as well as the probably greatest Mexican
novel, Pedro Paramo, by Juan Rulfo --- which also reveals much
about the Mexican character.]

As Hispanic America’s newest charismatic and populist chief
of state, President Lopez Obrador is of special interest to those
north-of-the-border. In many ways, he comes from a familiar
tradition of recent leaders, but in some ways, as I have pointed
out, he also represents unconventional world views and
approaches.

His term as president will likely be an extraordinary one, but
any prospects of his leadership resolving Mexico’s many
problems and challenges remain, at the outset of his taking
office in December, quite unclear.

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Flash Points

Two major decisions by the U.S. supreme court, plus the almost
simultaneous announcement that a senior justice would now
retire, have put the final arbiter institution of U.S. constitutional
law front and center in the news from Washington, DC. A third
decision, not a landmark, but an important one, involves the
long-controversial issue of abortion, and so it is the fourth high
court flashpoint now introduced into the general conversation
of the 2018 national mid-term elections.

The only power voters have in regard to the supreme court is the
election of a president (who nominates each court justice) and
the election of U.S. senators (who must confirm any nomination).

Since this is not a presidential election year, the only political
recourse for voters are this year’s senate elections.

President Trump will nominate a replacement for Justice
Anthony Kennedy on or before July 9. GOP Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell will then oversee what is likely to be
a rigorous examination of the nominee’s background, and a
vote on confirmation, he says, will take place in late September
or early October --- at least a month before the election.

In spite of the importance of these flash points to some of the
most important special interest groups in both parties, their
occurrence and timing will likely have very little impact on the
state primary elections, many of which have already taken
place.

But will these supreme court flash points have notable impact
in November? That is a question more difficult to answer.
The groups most ardent on each side of the immigration,
abortion and labor issues, even before the recent decisions,
are already usually high-turnout voters. The nomination and
confirmation vote on the new justice will likely be done by
election day. Other issues, including the state of the economy,
might perhaps be more pressing in November.

But one question might play a decisive factor in  several U.S.
senate races. President Trump has already signaled that he
will nominate a strong conservative to fill Justice Kennedy’s
seat. Mr. Kennedy was a conservative jurist much of the
time, but on certain social issues he sided with liberals on
the court. The new nominee is likely to be less of a swing vote.
This could put considerable pressure on senate candidates in
the autumn campaign. In those states, such as North Dakota,
West Virginia and Indiana, each of which Donald Trump
carried by big margins in 2016, Democratic incumbents will
be under pressure to declare they will break party ranks and
vote to confirm the Trump nominee. This is exactly what
Democratic Senators Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly of
those states did when Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017.
These three incumbents are each very vulnerable in 2018.

This could also be a GOP advantage in Montana and
Missouri. On the other hand, non-incumbent Republican
senate candidates in Nevada, Florida, Wisconsin, and
Minnesota --- each which have substantial numbers
of pro-choice voters --- might see their prospects slightly
dimmed by their pledge to vote  to confirm.

President Trump did well with blue collar and union voters
in 2016, and in 2018 seems to be doing even better.  But most
of those gains seem to have been among non-public
employees. Public union members, those directly affected by
the supreme court decision, seem as Democratic as ever,
and might be especially motivated to turn out in November
--- although the decision can’t be changed.

Pro-life voters might by November finally have a slim
majority on the court, but most observers think that an
outright court reversal on Roe v. Wade is unlikely. Since
pro-lifers are traditionally high-turnout voters, any major
increase by them on election day is also unlikely.

In spite of the significance and controversies in recent
U.S. supreme court decisions, their timing just before
a national mid-term election does not seem to have clear
and predictable impacts.

But the same might not be true in the 2020 presidential
election year.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Time To Set Foot On Earth Again?

Since election night, 2016, many Democrats have been on a fantasy
flight at zero gravity somewhere in space. It’s time for them to
return to earth and set foot on solid ground again.

After a political baptism in controversy and congressional stalemate
throughout most of 2017, President Donald Trump and his
Republican colleagues are enjoying a remarkable series of political
victories, some of which were enabled by many Democrats
abandoning the fields of political battle for a chartered flight of
denial in the clouds.

Elections mean a lot more than just getting the most votes. They
give power to the winners. This had been true in 2008 when the
Democrats took back the White House. Republicans, of course,
were not happy, and some of them got sidetracked in an empty
controversy over a birth certificate. But after Obamacare was
pushed through the Congress, the GOP eschewed a flight into
denial space, and went to work. Capitalizing on the unpopularity
of Obamacare, they won mid-terms in 2010 and 2014, and almost
defeated a sitting president in 2012. Even the latter defeat did
not prevent an upset victory four years later by Mr. Trump.

The most current consequences of conservative election victories
come from the non-elected branch of government which the
elected branches have the power to appoint and confirm, the U.S.
supreme court.

Within only a few days, this court handed down historic decisions
on the president’s travel ban, the rights of pro-life clinics, and the
rights of non-union public employees not to be forced to pay
union dues. In spite of being heralded as a “swing” vote on the
nation’s highest court, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the
conservative majority on all three votes, and then announced his
retirement. His replacement, to be named by President Trump,
will almost certainly strengthen the conservative majority. There
will be a partisan battle over whomever the president nominates,
but even if the confirmation vote is delayed until after the
mid-term election,  a credible conservative will take Justice
Kennedy’s place.

These developments, welcomed by most conservatives, are
equally and understandably disliked by most liberals. The
problem for the latter is that the Democratic Party seems, in
the current primary nominating season, to be moving strongly
and often to the left. This movement pleases some in the
Democratic base, but faces opposition from many in the
liberal mainstream. Most risky of all, it might well turn away
otherwise sympathetic independent voters, usually the key
group to winning competitive elections.

Republicans have only a narrow majority in the U.S senate, but
they have a clear advantage in the 2018 races, where so many
more Democratic incumbent senate seats are up for re-election.

U.S. house members do not confirm presidential appointments,
including supreme court nominees. U.S. senators do.

Wafts of socialistic and other radical programs are filling
reports from many primary contests in several states, egged on
by some of the most prominent potential 2020 Democratic
presidential nominees. These would seem to be cases of new
political flights into electoral denial.

The argument for a mid-term ‘blue wave” is now seemingly
evaporating. Is another kind of wave on the horizon?

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