Saturday, August 17, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Certain Uncertainty

Kashmir and the Straits of Hormuz are not familiar places to most
Americans, nor are the names Kamala Harris and Peter Buttigieg.
They are among many other “new”names and places suddenly in
the news. Most of the unfamiliar places and names will soon fade
from the news, but the events associated with them will continue,
creating more and more uncertainty until they are resolved ---and
a new set of unfamiliar names and locations will then replace them
in the news.

These are days of a certain uncertainty about economic, political
and diplomatic circumstances. There are crises, large and small,
seemingly everywhere and involving matters at home and abroad.

Unsettling moments such as these occur with historical regularity,
just as periods of apparent tranquility also take place, but most of
it is a kind of illusion because the world we live is always changing
out of daily sight.

Recurring events often provoke what we do see --- elections,
revolutions, natural disasters, technology innovations --- humanity
and nature dancing together on a kind of global petri dish.

Key elections are ahead not only in the U.S, but also in Great Britain,
Germany, Argentina, Austria and Israel; recent key elections have
occurred in Mexico, India, Australia, Brazil, Italy, France and Turkey.
Major events are occurring in western and central Europe, Hong
Kong and the South China Sea, Venezuela and Central America.

As if all this isn’t enough, President Trump is reportedly thinking
about the U.S. purchasing Greenland!

(Incidentally, President Harry Truman originated the idea.)

I don’t know if such a purchase would rise to the historical
importance of the Louisiana Purchase or  “Seward’s Folly” of buying
Alaska (both in the 19th century), but it is a curiously newsworthy (if
also a diversionary) idea. For a mere $60 billion, every native
Greenlander could become a millionaire, Denmark (which owns the
frozen territory) could wipe out its national debt, and the U.S. would
not ever run out of ice cubes.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can A New 2020 Candidate Get In?

The possibility of yet another Democratic candidate for president in
the 2020 cycle is being raised by some Democrats unhappy with the
choices now available in the already historically largest field.

Beginning most notably in 1896, significant late-entry candidates,
some of whom went on to win their party’s nomination (William
Jennings Bryan, James Cox,Wendell Willkie, George Wallace, Ross
Perot) have appeared, but none won the presidency. Abraham
Lincoln was a little-known figure, but he was not in 1860 a late entry,
and Donald Trump (who was known as a celebrity) did enter the race
when most of his 16 rivals did.

Yet, as Mr. Trump and Barack Obama have recently demonstrated,
precedents in U.S. politics can be upset.

It is likely that the eventual Democratic nominee will come from
the list of the current list of 24 contenders. Part of the problem for
the liberal party is that it has so much time to fill between now and
the first caucus and primary, and the other party controls the White
House and the U.S. senate. It does control the U.S. house, but
controversial figures and factions in that body often overshadow the
presidential contest. Secondly, their Republican opponent not only
has the “bully pulpit.” he is a master of political scene stealing.
All of the above takes away attention from the Democratic
presidential candidates who have overfull schedules of flying hither
and you for speeches, town halls and meet-and-greets as well as
personal telephone fundraising and endless media interviews.

The general voter, and even the Democratic voters, are not paying
much attention yet,and the lack of a charismatic frontrunner makes
the large field of candidates, probably unfairly, seem less
distinguished than it really is.

This leads, among other consequences, to calls for more
candidates. In reality, there are only a limited number of figures
who might do this. Such a list would include former First Lady
Michelle Obama, TV icon Oprah Winfrey, former New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and businessman Mark Cuban. The
latter three are billionaires; only Mrs. Obama is a mere
multimillionaire. She and Oprah, however, are universally known
and enjoy wide popularity. All four either were mentioned as
possible candidates or considered running earlier. Mr. Bloomberg
almost announced, but when Joe Biden got into the race, he
demurred. If Biden somehow were prematurely out of the race,
Bloomberg might reconsider, but the most probable answer to the
question of new candidates is: VERY UNLIKELY.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 9, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Other 2020 Elections

While it is understandable and inevitable that the 2020 presidential
race will receive top voter and media attention, there will be other
critical and vital election contests next year --- and they should not
be, even now so early in the cycle, overlooked.

I particularly call attention to the races for one-third of the U.S
senate seats, and consequently, control of that body. Control of the
U.S. house will also be at stake, as well as state governorships and
control of state legislatures --- each of which are very important ---
but it might be that the outcome of the U.S. senate races will have
the most impact in 2021 and beyond.

Whether Donald Trump is re-elected next year or he is replaced by
the eventual Democratic nominee, the control of the U.S. senate
will be key to the exercise of presidential power in the next term.

There are several permutations.The two which will produce the
least drama and conflict would be a Republican sweep or a
Democratic sweep of the executive and legislative branches. Under
those circumstances, executive branch appointments, including
judges, would proceed relatively unimpeded. With the historic
tensions between these two branches, and the divided policy
factions in each party, legislative action might not go that smoothly,
but there would not likely be the stalemate that now exists with
the current divided Congress.

Another set of permutations exist should the new (or re-elected)
president  be of a different party that controls the senate. With
new rules, begun under Democrat Harry Reid and expanded under
Republican Mitch McConnell, a simple and consistent senate
majority is a decisive factor in cabinet, sub-cabinet, judicial and
other presidential appointments being approved. Until a “nuclear
option rule was adopted, Democrats were able to hold up any of
President Trump’s appointments, and often did so. A Democratic
president in 2021 might well have the same experience with a
GOP-controlled senate. Conversely, should Mr. Trump win
re-election, but his party lose control of the senate, he could face
a stone wall blocking many of his appointments, particularly for
the U.S. supreme court and lower court federal judges.

Much of the nation’s day-to-day business occurs at the local and
state level, so I do not mean to minimize the impact of elections
of governors and state legislators. Nor do I mean to diminish the
work of the U.S. house. Under Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
the current U.S. house has often been an effective counterpuncher
to he White House. But Mrs. Pelosi, like GOP Speaker Paul Ryan
before her, faces divisions within her own caucus that reduce the
ability of that body often to act successfully.

Republicans only narrowly control the U.S. senate today (53-47).
Almost twice as many GOP incumbents than Democratic
incumbents are up for re-election in 2020 --- although relatively
few incumbents in either party are now vulnerable. Many senate
races are already well underway, but many others could see new
retirements or challengers.

Presidential politics, especially in this phase, present more drama
than even highly competitive individual senate races, but that does
not reduce their importance to what will happen at the ballot box
next year.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No 2020 Exit?

A self-described progressive faction seems to be driving the 2020
Democratic campaign bus, but some shrewd and candid liberal
strategists and pollsters are warning that this faction is navigating
the field not only without a road map, but without even any GPS.

As with any dense map of political streets, there are cul de sacs
everywhere.  The result, these veteran liberal savants suggest,
could be that the eventual Democratic ticket, no matter who is on
it, will find themselves and their party without a viable avenue to
victory well before election day.

Many observers don’t yet quite fully fathom the impact of these
possible unforced errors of the Democrats.

This has happened before. In 1964, it was Barry Goldwater. In
it was George McGovern. In 1984, it was Walter Mondale (an
otherwise conventional liberal, but who promised voters he would
raise their taxes). Each of these elections ended in a landslide
against them.

The Democrats do have alternative transportation, Such a political
“Uber” ride would have Joe Biden at the wheel. But this isn’t
apparently acceptable to the progressive faction which has
numerous candidates in the party’s presidential field, including
first and second “tier” aspirants Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren,
Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro and Cory Booker.

While Biden continues to lead clearly in the polls, the political
discussion seems dominated by the progressive faction. (Only
Bernie Sanders eagerly accepts the label “socialist.”)

In 2015, Donald Trump emerged quickly from the TV debates of a
17-person Republican field. By the time of the first caucus (Iowa)
and the first primary (New Hampshire), he was the candidate to
beat. All through the autumn and the early winter of 2015, he
outraged many in his own party while at the same time he built a
base at the grass roots level. Like him or not, he was not boring.
Meanwhile, the incumbent president, then a lame duck, was not
much of a political presence in his own party’s nomination
contest. Most observers concluded Hillary Clinton would win the
Democratic nomination, and in November, the presidency.

2020 is a much different political environment. The incumbent is
running for re-election, and so far had not been shy about being
the commenter-in-chief about the ups and downs of the contest on
the other side. He is also the national scene-stealer-in-chief --- and
refuses to let the Democrats put him on the defensive.

Of course, events and circumstances beyond his control or any
Democrat’s control could alter this race --- still 15 months away.
Foremost of these is the economy which is now booming, but
which many economists and market observers say is ripe for a
correction or downturn. (A minority of contrarians, however, see
this widespread economic pessimism as evidence the economy
could remain robust through next year.)

In the meantime, most voters, especially those not fully decided
about which side they are on, are not yet apparently engaged in
the presidential race. Perhaps ominously, they are not yet engaged
in the Democratic nomination contest.

This could change, but Democratic Party leaders have not only
their ticket to worry about, but equally important, a credible
map for their ticket to win in November, 2020.

Phantoms of past landslides always haunt the dreams of
political parties.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Brexit Might Mean To The U.S.

Americans have heard and read much about the British political crisis
called “Brexit,” but not much has been written about what the British
exit from the European Union (EU) might mean to the United States.

The idea of a union of European nations has a history initially going
back to the 19th century, but gained notable impetus after the 1918
armistice of World War I’s catastrophes of wasteful soldier casualties,
its demographic displacements and the suffering of civilian populations,
as well as its eruptions of religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts ---
which are still very much felt today. The first institution of its kind was
more global, a League of Nations, but that failed to halt the violence
between European states.. Only in the wake of World War II, were
most of the European nations able to agree to an economic union. The
intention of its founders, but not all of it member states, was to evolve
from an economic union with a common currency and no borders to a
political union that would ultimately eliminate the individual
sovereignty of its member nations.

Behind this thinking was an idealistic desire to avoid militarism,
violence and the chronic disruption of the continent’s peace,
commerce and well-being which had raged for centuries --- and
which, at various intervals, had been primarily initiated by Germany,
France, Spain and Great Britain against each other both on the
European continent and throughout the world as these and other
European states attempted to claim colonies and reap global
economic spoils.

An economic union, called the Common Market, made much political
and economic sense, but too rapid adoptions of a common currency
and political union were not shared, particularly by Great Britain which
declined to use the euro common currency that did appear, and
increasingly resisted EU attempts to diminish its sovereignty.

It needs to be remembered that the various European nations began
to organize in their modern forma more than a thousand years ago from
competing and warring barbarian tribes to the north of the Roman and
Greek civilization centers and capitals which had emerged more than a 
thousand years before that. The Roman empire soon had moved north
in conquest, subduing the barbarian tribes, bringing the Latin language
and Christianity with them.

But midway in the first millennium, A.D. , the tables were turned on
the Romans, and their empire was ended. The barbarian tribes which
they had subjugated by invading their territories became feudal states
of kingdoms, duchies and fiefdoms with their own languages, cultures
and character. When Catholicism (still led by the pope in Rome) was
challenged in England and northern Europe during the Reformation,
religious conflicts further complicated the imperial ambitions of the
local royal leaders, and centuries of aggression, betrayals and
territorial resentments followed --- leading to Napoleon in the 19th
century, and, as mercantile, industrial and mass societies arose, to
world wars, Nazi fascism and Soviet communism in the 20th century.

I have simplified and condensed much in the above, but it illustrates
why trying to impose a political union of Europe in only a few years,
while historically understandable and idealistic, is so problematic ---
especially in nations and societies which have becomes inherently
democratic.

The desire to impose an order determined by self-appointed and elite
arbiters is, in spite of its idealistic rationales, ultimately a totalitarian
impulse.

The British empire was created not only by imposing itself militarily
and economically through maritime dominance of places far from its
small island nation, but by the presumption that it had the right and
destiny to do so. The 20th century and its brutal conflicts cured the
British of these illusions, but did not diminish its enduring
contribution to certain global systems of democratic politics, the
rule of law and national sovereignty.

Once Europe overstepped its ambitions of denying British
sovereignty, the experiment was off. The United Kingdom was
scheduled to leave the EU in April. An agreement between the
parties delineating the separation was preferred, but not necessary.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit terms, which she awkwardly
negotiated, were not acceptable to a significant number in her own
Conservative (Tory) Party in Parliament. These euroskeptics, long
opposed to the EU, and others in the Parliament, ended Mrs.
May's feckless premiership. She has now been replaced by the
controversial former mayor of London, and later foreign minister
Boris Johnson.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Now what?

As Sir Bill Cash, the godfather of euroskepticism and the senior
figure of the backbencher euroskeptics, has repeatedly pointed out,
Britain will continue to trade with  Europe, albeit on some different
terms. Great Britain and continental Europe are inextricably linked
by proximity and trade, and no serious Brexiteer is suggesting
otherwise.

For the United States, Brexit presents the two leading
English-speaking nations with new opportunities for economic
trade and cooperation. Britain still leads its voluntary global
Commonwealth which includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and several smaller African,
Asian and South American nations --- a quarter of the world’s
population, but it could increase its trade with the U.S. via new
arrangements outside the former constraints imposed by the E.U.

Perhaps equally consequential for the U.S. side of the Atlantic
would be the British successful resistance to the loss of its
sovereignty, a threat the U.S. also faces in certain international
courts and global environmental institutions which seek to
by-pass U.S. legal procedures, standards and customs --- and
U.S. public opinion.

On October 31, 2019, Great Britain is scheduled to leave he EU
--- with or without a separation deal. The new prime minister
has pledged to try one more time to negotiate a deal with EU
leaders, but he has also asserted that if those negotiations fail,
Britain will leave the EU on that date anyway.

With Brexit concluded. the U.K. becomes potentially even
more important to the U.S. with possible major new trade and
other economic relationships. The ingredients and the incentives
are already in place, but it will take initiatives from both
President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson to make them
happen and succeed.


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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Monday, July 29, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Joe Biden's Moment?

 As we go to the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit,
it is becoming evident that frontrunner Joe Biden is at a critical
moment in his long quest, begun in 1986, to occupy the White
House and lead the nation.

Mr.Biden has been on the national stage for a very long time, first
elected to the U.S. senate in 1972, the youngest person to ever serve
in that body. By 1987, he had announced his first run for the
presidency, but it was short-lived when he developed a
life-threatening double aneurism. When he recovered, he returned
to the senate and became, at different times, chairman of the
important judiciary and foreign relations committees. In 2008, he
made a second presidential run, also unsuccessful, but the eventual
Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, did choose him to be his vice
presidential running mate. For eight years he was U.S. vice president,
but following a family tragedy, decided not to run for president in
2016, although he likely would have been eventual nominee Hillary
Clinton’s most formidable rival.

Her major rival, in fact, became self-styled socialist Senator Bernie
Sanders who lost, but managed to draw much of the party activist
base to the left, especially in the ensuing 2018 mid-term elections
in which the Democrats won back control of the U.S. house.

Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in an upset
that has sent shock waves through both major political parties.
President Trump has now solidified his support in the Republican
Party as he heads toward his re-election campaign, but the
Democratic Party is only united in its fervent opposition to Mr.
Trump --- otherwise it is divided between traditional liberals and
more radical “progressives.” Mr. Biden has emerged as the
standard bearer of the former --- while Mr. Sanders (who is back
for another try) has had to share the leadership of the latter with
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, as well as Mayor
Pete Buttigieg and others in the historically large field of more than
twenty candidates.

As might have been predicted, Mr. Biden was a target in the first
debate, especially by Senator Harris, and his debate performance
at best was lackluster. Nevertheless, he has maintained a lead in
most polls, albeit understandably somewhat reduced as voters
have been able to observe the other candidates, most of whom were
largely unknown nationally.

Mr. Sanders, who also has a big existing national Democratic voter
base, also has seen his numbers decline a bit. He remains a major
contender along with Senators Warren and  Harris --- and Mayor
Buttigieg. A “second tier” of candidates includes Julian Castro and
Beto O’Rourke --- and perhaps Cory Booker and Tulsi Gabbard ---
with about two dozen other candidates so far trailing in the polls.

Although some in the media have suggested that the Biden and
Sanders campaigns appear to be in some decline, I continue to
point out that each of them have loyal voter bases that just might
defy some pessimistic pundit prognostications.

The challenge for Biden and Sanders --- and all of their rivals --- is
somehow to maintain voter interest for the next seven months until
actual voting takes place in the caucuses and primaries. They must
also do this with their eventual opponent currently in the White
House. Not only does Donald Trump have the “bully pulpit,”  but
he has demonstrated a certain mastery of stealing media attention
(even though much of the media is hostile to him).

One Democratic strategy has been to keep alive old allegations
from 2016 (e.g. The Mueller Report), and to press for impeachment
proceedings in the U.S. house. “Old pros” such as Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and Joe Biden so far have seen these tactics as self-defeating,
inasmuch as the voting public (especially undecided voters) seems
to have moved on to 2020 issues.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden has issues to face, including his age and the
charge that he wants to return to a pre-Trump era. Should these
issues take hold, his frontrunning position could be vulnerable ---
and one or more of the other candidates could overtake him.

After a disastrous first debate with Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan
used his own age the basis of a comeback in their next 1984 debate.
Barack Obama did not have a good first debate with Mitt Romney,
but was able to recover in the next one in 2012.

Joe Biden probably will be a central focus of both evenings of the
next debate in Detroit. How he and his rivals handle this internal
drama could be important --- and should be fascinating to observe.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Self-Destruction in 2019

Neither major political party has a monopoly on self-destructive
behavior at this stage of the 2020 national election cycle. The key
question is: Will this political masochism persist into next year when
the votes will be counted?

The Democrats cannot let go of their shock and disappointment in
2016 when Donald Trump upset the political establishments of both
parties. Their self-destruction is most evident in the U.S. house of
representatives which Democrats won back in 2018. The latest
example of this was the appearance of the former special prosecutor
before U.S. house committees. This move was designed to revive voter
interest in the special prosecutor’s report which found no wrongdoing
by President Trump, but was nonetheless considered damaging to the
president by many Democrats. The special prosecutor’s testimony
and manner, according to the public statements of many savvy (and
candid) Democratic commentators, backfired and was something of
a disaster. Ongoing efforts to impeach the president, also part of this
self-defeating behavior, suffered a setback. (Democrats should be
grateful to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has resisted most of her
colleagues' ineffective behavior, and tried to make her party more
competitive not only to keep control of the U.S house next year, but
also in the effort to defeat President Trump’s re-election.)

In upcoming U.S. senate campaigns, Republicans in some states
seem determined to defeat themselves in a number of races they
would otherwise win or be competitive. They have done this often
in previous cycles when inappropriate nominees were placed on the
ballot  --- most recently in 2018 in Alabama where a certain GOP seat
was won by a Democrat. In the 2020 cycle, Republicans risk losing
safe seats in Kansas and again in Alabama, and a reasonable chance
for a pick-up from the Democrats in Minnesota if the nomination
contest is prolonged into a bitter primary. With only narrow control
of the U.S. senate at stake, Republicans can ill-afford to throw away
victories. Oversize political egos seem to be a chronic problem for
the GOP in some states.

The Democratic presidential nomination contest is still unresolved,
but it has been suggested if the party nominee goes too far to the left
next year, it will diminish Democratic prospects in the November
election.

Much can change between now and 17 months from now, but there
are worrisome patterns in both political parties that could handicap
their own goals and prospects.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.