Sunday, January 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unsettling Powers

It is not an accident that virtually all of the major national powers in
the world are suddenly in intense political turmoil just now.

If “world power” is defined by population alone, then China and India
hold those titles.

If “world power” is defined by military prowess, then the United States,
Russia, as well as China, fit the definition.

If  “world power” is defined by economics, then the European Union
(EU) and its three primary nation members (United Kingdom,
Germany and France), as well as the U.S., China and India, would be
included.

Also playing major military and/or economic roles in the world are
Brazil, Iran, Canada, Japan and Indonesia.

China, Iran, and, to a certain degree, Russia are not democracies,  but
their turmoil is not only economic, but broadly put, political as well.

Democratic nations such as the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, India,
Japan, Canada and Brazil had, following the end of the Cold War in
the early 1990’s, enjoyed mostly growth and increasing political
stability.  But recently, these national powers have seen political
disruptions of varying kinds, and the result is international confusion
and global uncertainty at a heightened level not seen since the 1930s.

Some of the causes for the turmoil can be explained. New technology
advances in transportation and communications have provoked much
change in human life today. In the more developed nations and
societies, life spans and daily living conditions have improved with
unprecedented velocity. Simply put, there are more human beings on
earth who are living longer and requiring more goods, services and
security than ever before in history.

It would seem reasonable to assume then that both the democratic and
even the totalitarian models of governing are therefore in some
confusion and disruption.

The inevitable question arises: What will all this turmoil, confusion
and disruption lead to? Will it be a quickly passing phase? Will it
more fundamentally change daily life? Will political and economic
relationships be permanently altered within nations and between
nations?

Questions about change have few certain answers.. Twice the
idealism of institutionalized international cooperation has failed
(League of Nations and United Nations). Regional economic
cooperation institutions such as the EU have faltered as national
sovereignty was heavy-handedly diminished without true popular
support.  But international humanitarian and technology-specific
organizations continue to function and thrive, including, just as an
example, the International Red Cross and its equivalent groups all
over the world.

Certain nations and regions endure long-term instability, and their
chronic political and economic upheavals should come as no
surprise. When the largest powers witness significant change,
however, it is likely a sign of a deeper societal phenomenon.

That is why what is occurring in the U.S., China and Europe bears
careful scrutiny and vigilance in this unsettled and provisional
moment in time.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Uncertain 2020 Senate Elections

The 2020 U.S. senate election prospects for Democrats (who are
eager to regain control of it) are becoming more and more uncertain.

Published reports indicate that West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe
Manchin, who just won re-election in 2018, is seriously considering
running for governor of the state, a post he once held, in 2020. The
popular centrist, if he ran, would likely win, thus creating a vacancy
that almost certainly would be filled by a Republican in this state
carried overwhelmingly by Donald Trump in 2016, and where the
president is still very popular. In fact, Senator Manchin is the only
remaining Democrat in West Virginia holding statewide office. The
current governor, elected as a Democrat, switched parties and is a
strong Trump supporter.

Although 36 senate seats are up in 2020, and 24 of them are now
held by Republicans (a reverse of 2018 when most incumbents were
Democrats), very few of the races now seem competitive. In fact,
the one senate seat likely to switch parties next year is in Alabama,
where incumbent Democrat Senator Doug Jones is rated a likely
loser in this normally very conservative state. (Jones won an upset
special election in 2017 when his Republican opponent became
immersed in controversies.)

Most of the other 2020 senate races takes place in states where 
incumbents, or their replacements in case of retirement, are expected
to win easily. Indeed, there have already been two announced
retirements, GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and GOP
Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and both of them are now expected
to be replaced by Republicans in these conservative states.

Two Republican incumbents, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and
Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, are considered potentially
vulnerable in 2020, as are Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith of
Minnesota and Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, but all
four are incumbents, and might not be easily rejected by the voters.

Of course, the 2020 presidential election, already underway, could
change the dynamic of senate election prospects. If President Trump
emerges positively from the current government shutdown standoff
and the expected U.S. house (now controlled by the Democrats)
investigations, and wins re-election, he could help his party’s senate
candidates across the board. Conversely, if he does not, or chooses
not to run, GOP losses could exceed current expectations.

A strong Democratic presidential nominee could help 2020 liberal
senate challengers, but a controversial one, as George McGovern was
in 1972, might make prospects worse for Democratic senate and
congressional candidates in November, 2020.

The presidential contest could likewise affect the 2020 U.S. house
elections, when the new Democratic majority must defend their 40
pick-ups in 2018, most of which were by small margins in very
competitive districts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a
Democratic U.S. house caucus no less divided and difficult to control
than the one faced by House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017.

The political year of 2020 is inevitably going to be interesting, but
2019 just might have some memorable fireworks of its own.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Old Party Bases Are Not Enough

Each major U.S. party has a political voter base that is vital to its
electoral success.

This is true in most local, state and national elections, and is validated
when significant numbers from these bases are occasionally turned
off by nominees who fail to meet the voters’ standards of character,
personal conduct, policy views or campaign strategy --- and do not
vote as predicted.

It is no surprise, then, that political strategists and candidates pay
considerable attention to the views and concerns of this traditionally
most loyal group of voters.

At each level of electoral politics, the party bases vary, primarily by
geography and demographics, but in general, each party’s base has
become more monolithic ideologically. In the previous period, the
post-war era of 1946 to 1980, each party included voters of opposing
views on specific issues. The classic example was the  abortion issue.
There were prominent figures voicing pro-life and pro-choice views
in both the Republican and Democratic parties. This is no longer true.
With a few exceptions, most Republicans officials are pro-life and
most Democratic officials are pro-choice.

Similar increasing divisions have occurred in various ethnic, religious,
economic and gender-sensitive communities, and contributed, prior to
recently, to certain political generalizations and conventional wisdom.

In 2016, the validity of these presumptions was shattered in the
presidential election. There had been signals of this change previously,
but they had been confined mostly to individual races, and were usually
rationalized as explainable outliers.

The old generalizations of the party bases included that most black,
Hispanic, Jewish, establishment Protestant, ethnic Catholics, big city
residents,and union member voted Democratic, as did a majority of
women. The Republican base included a majority of men, Evangelical
Christians, hunters and gun owners, small business owners, rural,
suburban and exurban voters.

In 2016, notable numbers of some of the Democratic base electorate
voted for Trump in a few key states that had been reliably liberal.

In 2018, some of these “rebel” voters, especially suburban women,
returned to the Democratic Party in the mid-term elections,
particularly in competitive districts and states. Having for years
opposed Obamacareto their advantage, but now controlling the
Congress and White House, Republicans had failed to enact a
necessary alternative.

At the same time, many of the hitherto heavily Democratic voting
groups, including blacks, Hispanics, Jews and rank-and-file blue
collar workers, continue to change sides as more socially and
economically radical left figures increasingly attempt to dominate
the party’s agenda.

So each party has problems with their old bases --- and consequently,
each party has an opportunity to recreate and expand their base.

As the 2020 presidential cycle begins to unfold in earnest, there are
many signs that Democratic and Republican leaders are preoccupied
with the former, and not paying much attention to the latter.

I suggest such an approach simply fails to learn the lessons of 2016
and 2018 --- and is a prescription for more surprises from the voters
in November twenty-one months from now.

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

Friday, January 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: First Hats In The Ring

The 2020 presidential election cycle now has begun. Most of the initial
speculation understandably is about whom the Democratic nominee
will be. A record number of potentially serious candidates are openly
mentioned, and already a notable number of them are in various stages
campaigning, ranging from creating exploratory committees to visiting
Iowa and New Hampshire, and to fundraising.

The latest name to be added to a very long list is Democratic Washington
Governor Jay Inslee. He had not previously appeared on most lists ---
which suggests that even more liberal political figures will likely throw
their hats into the ring before long.

(Incidentally, the early 19th century origin of “throw one’s hat in the ring”
has a certain relevance to its contemporary political usage. In the
early 1800s it meant literally throwing one’s hat into a circular boxing
ring as an announcement of a challenge. Since presidential politics today
more resembles pugilistic fighting than a contest of civic discourse, the
phrase seems especially apt.)

Other politicians more or less into the 2020 nomination contest include
(in no particular order) Congressman John Delaney of Maryland,
former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Senator Elizabeth
Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former
Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio,
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Texas Congressman Robert
“Beto” O’Rourke.

Only one previously cited potential candidate, former Governor Deval
Patrick of Massachusetts has publicly announced he will not run.

But the list of potential candidates is quite long, and includes (again
in no particular order) Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper,
California Senator Kamala Harris, former Virginia Governor Terry
McAuliffe, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Colorado Senator
Michael Bennet, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, former HUD Secretary
Julian Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Ed Garcetti, Minnesota Senator
Amy Klobuchar, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, South
Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, Montanta Governor Steve Bullock,
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, New York Senator Kirsten
Gillibrand, and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has appeared on most lists, but he
has just endorsed Joe Biden. His name could reappear.

Most Americans, outside the home areas of many of the above potential
candidates, have not ever heard of them. Those whose names they know
could have political problems --- most frequently those who will be 70
or older in 2020.

But most Americans had not heard of Jimmy Carter in 1975, Bill
Clinton in 1991, nor Barack Obama in 2007.

Simply by name recognition, Joe Biden leads in early polls.

Democrats have already announced early debates, primaries and
caucuses as a way to make the candidate field smaller.

In the next few weeks and months, the political ring will be filled with
hats. --- and hesitations, demurrals and second thoughts.

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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2020 Cycle Opens With Democrats Divided

The 2020 election cycle is now beginning in earnest, and there are
serious question marks for the prospects of the two major U.S. political
parties.

President Trump’s re-election is in doubt --- if we take the
just-concluded 2018 mid-term elections as predictive. Although Mr.
Trump won a clear electoral college victory in 2016, he not only did
not win the popular vote, but his electoral college margin depended
critically on five battleground states, i.e., Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan and Wisconsin. Most observers thought he would win none
of them, but he did win all of them.

Each of them remains as competitive in 2020, but Florida and Ohio
results in 2018 were encouraging for the GOP. Pennsylvania, Michigan
and Wisconsin, however, were not.Without them, all else being equal,
a Democratic nominee would be elected president in 2020.

Republicans lost control of the U.S. house in 2018, so the new cycle
has quite a different dynamic. The increased GOP margin in the U.S.
senate means that presidential appointments, judicial and executive,
will likely continue to go forward. Much, then, will depend on what
the U.S. house, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi as speaker, does.

There is, before the new Congress is sworn in, a division among
Democrats about how to proceed. The newer, younger and mostly urban
members of Congress seem inclined to proceed not only with public
investigations of Mr. Trump and his government, but also to impeach
the president and to pursue an historically radical agenda.

In recent days, two defeated Democratic incumbent senators in 2018
Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have
publicly warned their party about lurching to the far left. Other center
left Democrats, especially those from battleground states in the South,
Midwest and Mountain West apparently agree, pointing out that most
of the Democratic U.S. house and gubernatorial 2018 gains were by
small margins, and were enabled by a significant number of GOP
incumbents retiring. In 2020 and 2022, most of the new incumbents
will have to defend their seats in competitive districts and states. Most
of these new incumbents won by campaigning on the center left.

Speaker-elect Pelosi  has won back her post through concessions and
compromise with her caucus, and will be pressured leftward by notable
numbers of her own members, most of whom were elected in 2018 in
overwhelmingly Democratic urban districts. It is not unlike he dilemma
GOP Speaker Paul Ryan faced in 2017 with divisions in his caucus.

Whatever course the new U.S. house takes, its confrontation with a
controversial Republican president and a stronger conservative U.S.
senate will spill over into an accelerating contest for the Democratic
nomination for president throughout 2019 and early 2020.

But the division among Democrats will not be the only major factor
in the 2020 cycle. Republicans, especially those now out of power in
the U.S. house, have their own divisions, and President Trump’s
administration faces numerous challenges, now known and unknown,
in domestic and foreign policies.

Just ahead is the first inning of the 2020 contest. Runs might be scored
by either side early in the game, but there will be many innings ahead ---
and anything can happen.

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: These Latest Days Of Uncertainty

We each experience periods of uncertainty in our personal lives,
most of them awaiting the decisions and assessments of others
about our jobs, our own medical conditions and those of family and
friends,, grades at school, political and business outcomes and, of
course, how others feel about us. Uncertainty is a constant in daily life.

There are also episodic times when the uncertainty is more intense
and widespread --- as happens when there is a crisis or emergency faced
by a community or locale --- or the nation as a whole.

It obviously occurs on those rare occasions, when a threat is historic,
such as occurred in Great Britain in 1940, facing defeat and invasion, or
in the U.S. in the days that followed December 7, 1941 --- or November
22, 1963 --- or September 11, 2001.

There are also moments which, while not provoked by events as
dramatic as those just cited, still produce a pervasive anxiety.

I think this is what is happening just now --- precipitated by a
confluence of various events and  circumstances that only appears
infrequently, and which accumulates in varying degrees in our
daily subconscious, as well as our more fully conscious awareness.

Let me list only some of the most unsettling recent events and likely
circumstances that produce perhaps the most uncertainty:

The growing insertion of artificial intelligence and robotics into all
of our lives., and the inevitable massive job displacement that will 

result.

The unconventional and disruptive new president of the United States.

A nearly worldwide populist and nationalist “revolt of the masses”
bringing about sudden political change and upheaval.

The astonishing velocity of the computer/internet/smart phone 

revolution in technology that now affects virtually everyone.

The emergence of China as a world economic and military power.
The chronic implosion of the solidarity and cohesion of the “old
world” of Europe. The reemergence of an imperial Russia.

The decline and demoralizaton of public education in the U.S. into 

many issues of political correctness and ideology.

An ongoing and unresolved public debate about the validity of
prognoses  for current climate change and environmental conditions.

The recurrence of serious epidemics and pandemics of new and
contagious diseases for which treatments are unknown or limited,
and for which global containment is problematic.

The growing assault on representative democracy, free enterprise
and free speech.

There are also numerous short-term events which contribute to
public anxiety, including “shutting down” the government, a declining
stock market, bad weather conditions, natural disasters, etc.

There is, however, a ”glass is half full” way to look at our present
circumstances.

First, in response to sudden change, disruption and transformation,
we can remember that life on earth, at the local and global levels, is
always changing. Many think they live as if the world were a
photograph, a fixed moment in time and not moving. Instead, it is a
four-dimensional film. Adaptation is vital in the world we live in.

Second, technology can be unsettling and disruptive, but it also
expands our human capabilities, cures hitherto incurable conditions,
extends life spans. enlarges our consciousnesses --- and its challenges
lead us to create, adapt and innovate.

Third, nations and regions historically take turns in rising and falling.
Old Greece, Rome, Persia, China, India, Turkey, Spain, France and
Russia have had their turns and their empires. A small island nation,
Great Britain, created a global 19th century worldwide empire.
Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union briefly tried to dominate their
regions in the 20th century. China and India today dwarf all other
nations in population size, but their roles in the world will also
depend on innovation and non-industrial production --- activities
which smaller and creative nations can and do also successfully
provide.

Fourth, the recent weakness and failures in U.S. public education,
combined with their high and rising costs has provoked new
approaches and countermeasures. An education system is only as
good as the results it produces. Teaching and learning in the U.S.
are undergoing a transformation.

Fifth delays and unfairness that result from bureaucracies, public
and private corruption, and the endemic lack of public scrutiny are
now being increasingly contested by demands for new public
transparency in government and the private sector.

Sixth, many frequent emotional claims of inequalities ignore the f
act that the fundamental economic and social levels of the world
have risen dramatically in only a few generations. Deprivation,
starvation, violence, unemployment, lack of freedom, famines
and natural disasters still plague humanity, but the extreme
inequalities of the past are no longer viable, and are diminishing
globally (if unevenly).

In short, life in our time, as in all previous times, is a work in progress.
As always, it is hard work, no matter how many devices we create to
make it easier.  Young generations, accustomed and conditioned to
current circumstances, generally don’t truly understand what previous
generations went through or struggled against. There are, of course,
no guarantees that some of what we worry about won’t occur., but if
we treat each day, good or bad, as a way forward, it is inevitably
better than only looking backward into what we think we fear.

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Who Lose Are Winners

In politics, as in other endeavors, a loss often leads to later victory,
and two examples, one in each party, from the recently concluded
2018 mid-term elections could demonstrate this timeless phenomenon.

Democratic Congressman Robert (“Beto”) O’Rourke of Texas lost to
incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz this year, but he came
relatively close, became a favorite of the local and national liberal
media, and was able to raise a stunning amount of campaign funds.
Although his loss have led some to dismiss him as a flash in the
political pan, he is already being prominently as a potential
Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 or beyond.

Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona lost her
2018 senate race, but was caught in the middle of an intraparty
political feud, and still came close. With her political future in doubt, 
the Arizona GOP governor has just appointed her to succeed retiring
(and appointed) Senator John Kyl to the other Arizona senate seat to
finish out the term of the late John McCain.

Both these impressive young political figures still have to demonstrate
their “staying power, and each faces hurdles ahead. They were among a
small group of young politicians who lost in 2018, but who made a very
serious impression in their campaigns --- including GOP senate nominee
John James in Michigan and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew
Gillum in Florida.

Beginning perhaps with Abraham Lincoln, who lost his early elections,
U.S. political history has many instances of losers who became ultimate
winners by persevering. There is also a list of those who kept at it, but
did not finally succeed, including William Jennings Bryan, Thomas
Dewey and Adlai Stevenson.

Which will O’Rourke and McSally be?

That is yet to be determined, but I suggest an eye be kept on them.

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