Wednesday, September 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Parliamentary Perils

From time to time, occasional voices in the U.S. are heard
lamenting our executive-legislative-judicial form of government,
usually accompanied by pleas to adopt a much more globally
employed parliamentary system.

No system is perfect, of course, but the long-range wisdom of the
founding American leaders is  being reinforced today as three of
the world’s democratic parliaments are facing profound crises.

(Historically,when one of the three U.S. branches becomes too
strong or too weak, another branch provides needed balance.
In recent years, Congress has become stalemated, but both the
executive and judicial branches have attempted to fill the
resulting vacuums. A case in point has been the use of executive
orders by both President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and
President Donald Trump, a Republican.)

Two of these parliaments are in nations which are our closest
allies, the United Kingdom and Israel. The third is in the world’s
largest democracy, India. Each of their crises highlights perils that
parliaments can face.

In the United Kingdom, the Brexit crisis has paralyzed its ancient
parliament, once the model for new nations across the globe. In a
national plebiscite two years ago, British voters narrowly but
clearly voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) and the
parliament-determined government was charged to bring about
the withdrawal (known as Brexit). But under Conservative Prime
Minister Theresa May it failed to do so. This was because her own
party was divided between pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit M.Ps, and a
negotiated deal to leave the EU was blocked in the parliament, thus
thwarting the voters’ decision. A new Conservative prime minister,
Boris Johnson, pledged to make Brexit happen, deal or no deal, but
he no longer has a parliamentary majority, and the current members
not only are blocking an October 31 withdrawal, they are preventing
Johnson from calling a new election (which polls indicate he would
handily win) thus, in effect, paralyzing the current British government.

In Israel, a new election was called, and the two largest political
parties and their allies are apparently virtually tied, with most of
the votes now counted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won
an election earlier this year, but was unable to form a coalition of
61 members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would enable
him to remain in power. Netanyahu’s center right coalition appears
to have 54-56 seats, His center left opposition coalition appears to
have 41-43 seats.  The third largest coalition, representing Arab
voters, has 12-14 members. Finally, a conservative but secular
party has 8-10 members. The latter, led by Avigdor Liberman, has
called for a “unity” secular government, but refuses to support any
government that includes the Arab coalition. Thus, a new majority
is stymied unless the religious parties are willing to compromise
on the issue of drafting Orthodox men into the Israeli army,
an issue that Mr. Liberman continues to insist on. Mr. Netanyahu
remains in power for the time being, and as Israel’s longest-serving
and most successful politician, cannot yet be relegated to the defeat
now being proclaimed by hostile media in Israel and the U.S.

In India, the problem is not one of stalemate resulting from a
lack of a parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Modi of
the Hindu nationalist party, recently won a landslide re-election,
saying he would revoke the autonomous status of Kashmir, a
mostly Muslim province in northwestern India. This status had
existed since 1947 when Kashmiri leader Sheik Omar Abdullah
had negotiated it with then Indian Prime Minister Nehru. At the
end of the British colonial period, both India and Pakistan claimed
Kashmir, but Nehru offered Kashmir the closest outcome to the
full independence that the Kashmiris sought. Kashmir’s leaders
today assert that Modi’s and the Indian parliament’s unilateral
action is illegal, but India has sent in troops to occupy the area,
and has arrested most of the province’s Muslim political
leadership, including Sheik Abdullah’s son and grandson, both
former chief minsters of Kashmir. While Modi’s revocation is a
fait accompli, the controversial action risks staining India’s
reputation as a genuine democracy which adheres to the rule of
law.

All three of the above crises remain unsettled for now, but the
lack of an accepted legal mechanism to easily resolve the disputes
only illustrates a key weakness which can arise in the
parliamentary system.

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Early To Panic, But.....

The failure of the Democrats to win an upset in a North Carolina
special congressional election, establishment media reports
notwithstanding, combined with still another demonstration of
Donald Trump’s ability to rouse his base in that same contest,
must be giving hitherto optimistic savvy Democratic activists
and strategists some pause in their expectations for 2020.

Special elections have to be regarded with caution for the
signals they might display, but in the last cycle, the 2018
midterms, these contests were often a demographic bellwether
of what became a “blue wave” in U.S. house races.

NC-9 turned  out to be a narrow but clear win for Republicans,
winning the race by 4000 votes in spite of having a well-known,
well-financed, attractive and strong Democratic nominee in the
race. The GOP nominee was not as well-known, under-financed
until the very end, and he entered the race quite late. Yes, the
district was historically Republican (Mr. Trump carried it by 12
points in 2016). but the Republican nominee  only won by 900
votes in 2018 --- and that  election was thrown out because of
apparent fraud.

As it was, the Republican might have lost if the president and
the national Republican Party had not stepped in during the
campaign’s closing days, but the fact is that they did step in,
and were not only successful, but improved on the GOP
performance from 2018.

In the other special election, NC-3, the Republican won, as
expected, in a landslide.

As 10 of the 19 remaining Democratic “major” presidential
candidates walk on the stage for their third debate, Democratic
voters are faced with a field in which their three frontrunners in
the polls are each over 70 and strongly represent one of the two
factions of a divided party. 

If North Carolina, or Georgia (two states targeted by Democrats to
take away from the GOP in 2020) had Senator Bernie Sanders or
Senator Elizabeth Warren at the top of their ticket next year, the
results in NC-9 signal their prospects to pick up these two
Southern states, as well as defeat incumbent GOP Senator Thom
Tillis, would seem reduced. With the more moderate Joe Biden on
the ticket, their prospects would seem better, but the Democrat in
NC-9 was even more moderate than Biden, and he was defeated
by considerably more votes than when he ran in 2018.

On the other hand, we are speaking here of traditional Republican
territory. The victories in the two special North Carolina elections,
while good news for the president and his party, don’t tell us much
about the rest of the U.S., particularly the key midwestern states
that decided the 2016 election.

Perhaps the greatest cause for unease among Democrats now is the
recent demonstration in North Carolina and elsewhere of the
president’s continuing strong support from his party base, and his
ability to bring his voters to the polls. Others have pointed out that
NC-9 was the last chapter of the 2018 mid-terms. Coming  a year
later, and with the Democrats ideologically more divided than they
were in 2018, the special election speaks most broadly of a
time-tested political reality --- that each cycle has its own particular
voter landscape, and will likely reflect the new circumstances that
even only two years can produce.

Having only one debate session for the third Democratic debate,
might be only a brief respite. An 11th candidate has now qualified
for the fourth debate (and 1 or 2 more are close to qualifying), so
the prospects of two debate sessions again is ahead.

Some might suggest the sense of division is symbolic of the
Democrats’ greatest challenge in 2020. There is no need for them
to panic --- so much can happen in 13 months and Mr. Trump has
his own potential problems --- but.....

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Collapse Of The United Kingdom?

The news headlines from the British capital on the other side
of the Pond are unsettling to any admirer of British democracy
and sovereignty. That small island nation has played an outsized
role in modern global history, and although like all human
endeavors it has not been without its shortcomings, its current
peril should be of concern to all who have benefited from its
contributions to the rule of law, culture, human freedom and the
emergence of representative democracy.

For almost two centuries, the British empire through its naval
resources was the greatest world power. As a colonial power, it
exhibited arrogance and imposed itself on, and exploited, faraway
places. That included a period when the U.S. was a colony, and
ultimately felt the need to declare its independence. Even after
that was won, the British attempted to retake its American colony,
even sacking and burning Washington, DC before finally
withdrawing to its English shores and other colonies.

Its era of empire ebbed after World War I, and was finished by
the end of World War II. Most of its colonies became serious
representative democracies, including the U.S., Australia, New
Zealand, Canada, India, Nigeria and other nations. Unlike the
new nations formed from the lands of the colonial powers of
Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands,
Austria-Hungary and Germany, the British left important civic
legacies that were largely beneficial to most of its former
territories.

One of those legacies was the Westminster (parliamentary)
system which traces back about a thousand years to the Magna
Carta. English imperial rule evolved into a powerless (but
usefully symbolic) monarchy. The U.S. adopted a different
system, but kept many British traditions of law, language and
public conduct.

In the evening of its waning global power, in the desperate days
of Nazi aggression, the United Kingdom and its people
demonstrated remarkable resiliency, resolve and courage in their
”finest hour.”

Today, the U.K. is a shadow of its former naval and military
prowess. Yet the British pound is still an independent global
standard currency. The U.K.remains an economic presence in
international trade, but its long-uneasy membership in the
European Union (E.U.) has reached a crisis over sovereignty,
and the U.K.electorate has voted to leave the E.U. The process
of this departure, known as Brexit, has been quite complicated,
primarily due to minority and regional opposition to Brexit in the
Conservative (Tory) government and the parliament it has, until
now, controlled.

Two years ago, a new Tory prime minister, Theresa May, was
elected by the party to make Brexit happen in an orderly fashion,
but she failed to do so, and the formal break has been delayed.
A new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was chosen to finish the job,
and he has promised to do so, even if a transition agreement
cannot be reached with E.U. leaders by an October 31 deadline.
Such a “no deal” outcome is unacceptable to a majority of
members of Parliament, including several Tory members, and
Mr. Johnson’s efforts to finalize Brexit have been apparently
blocked. His parliamentary majority is now gone. Not only can he
now not make a no-deal Brexit happen --- and given this
circumstance, E.U. leaders have no reason to make a new deal ---
the Parliament also will not allow Johnson to call a new election
which current polls indicate he would win.

Further complicating this unprecedented impasse, Parliament so
far is unwilling to dismiss Johnson with a no-confidence vote,
and replace him with the minority Labour Party leader who is
widely disliked for what his opponents call his anti-semitic and
radical views.

An independent pro-Brexit party, led by nationalist Nigel Farage,
has already won dramatic local elections, and if Prime Minister
Johnson is unable to make Brexit happen on October 31, it is
poised to devastate the Tory Party in a national election --- just as
it did in the recent local elections.

All of this could precipitate not only a constitutional crisis,
it could lead to an attempted secession of Scotland and perhaps
other parts of the United Kingdom (which also includes England,
Wales and Northern Ireland).

In short, it is a colossal political mess with no apparent way out.
The fact is that the British electorate voted for Brexit, and failure
to make it happen could bring some very hitherto un-British
activity to the streets of the now not so United Kingdom.

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

Monday, September 2, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Senate Prospects Fourteen Months Out

In the past few months, the 2020 U.S. senate election cycle has seen
some significant changes, especially in the names of those who seek
to be on the November ballot.

Most recently, Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, whose
seat was not up next year, announced his early retirement. His GOP
appointed replacement will now have to run in 2020. Georgia is no
longer safe Republican territory, and the state’s other senator, David
Perdue, also a Republican, is up for re-election next year. The GOP
Georgia governor is therefore under pressure to make a strong
appointment to replace Isakson.

Two other GOP incumbents, in Tennessee and Kansas, have decided
not to seek re-election in 2020, and three GOP incumbents running
for re-election, Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, Senator Cory
Gardener of Colorado, and Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina,
are considered vulnerable.

Should the Democrats win four of these seven seats, and not lose any
of their own, they would regain control of the senate in 2021.

However, there are at least four Democratic incumbent seats up in
2020 that the liberal party might lose. One is in usually heavily
conservative Alabama where a controversial GOP nominee lost in
2018, and is running again in 2020 against the Democrat who beat
him. If Alabama Republicans fail to put up any other nominee, they
would probably lose an almost certain pick-up. Similarly, in normally
conservative Kansas, another controversial Republican is running,
and if the state party can’t find a better  nominee, they risk losing a
seat they now hold --- and otherwise should win.

In Michigan, the Democratic incumbent, Senator Gary Peters, is
considered quite vulnerable, and the GOP has an especially strong
challenger, John James, running in the race. In New Hampshire,
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is thought to be vulnerable,
especially if former Trump staffer Corey Lewandowki challenges
her. Finally, Democratic (DFL) Senator Tina Smith could have a
serious race now that a damaging GOP primary battle has been
avoided, and former Congressman Jason Lewis is the probable
nominee challenging her in a state that the president wants to win.

The one Democratic Senator to retire so far is from New Mexico,
but this liberal state is expected to replace him with another
Democrat.

The Democratic Party has recruited likely strong challengers in
Arizona and Colorado. The Republicans are likely to recruit strong
challengers in Michigan and New Hampshire. Altogether, ten
senate races are currently considered in play in 2020.

But with unexpected resignations, retirements, and the course of
the also upcoming presidential election unknown. other senate
seats could become competitive in the coming months.

The GOP controls the senate 53-47. It is likely but not certain that,
14 months out, the Democrats will make at least some net gains.
Whether those gains will be enough to retake control remains to be
seen, but it is almost certain that, with Donald Trump at the top of
his party’s ticket, the Republicans will have a voter turnout asset
they lacked in the “blue wave” 2018 midterm elections. Less
certain is whether the Democratic nominee will be a greater or
lesser turnout asset.

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Elizabeth Warren: Harbinger Or Throwback?

The extended interval between the first Democratic presidential
debate in late July and the first actual voting in Iowa (caucus) and
New Hampshire (primary) in early February next year has already
provided some apparent movement between leading contenders
--- and is likely to provide much more before we have the decision
of the voters.

After that first debate, Senator Kamala Harris (who had sharply
confronted former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader in the polls)
garnered media attention and rose in her polls. Biden took a dip
in the polls and became a target for his rivals. Then Mayor Pete
Butigieg got some media attention, and rose in the polls. Senator
Bernie Sanders, the only candidate returning from the 2016 cycle,
maintained a high media profile and poll numbers --- although at
some distance from Biden. Senator Elizabeth Warren issued several
position papers, was strong in the second debate, but often trailed
Biden, Sanders and Harris in polls.  Biden throughout this period
maintained a substantial poll lead over the others, and Sanders’
numbers declined a bit.  After the second debate, and issuing some
policy positions, the Harris poll numbers declined sharply, and
she received some criticism.

Another “tier” of the 26 candidates deemed “major” by the media
received some attention, but rarely exceeded 5% in the polls, and
many of them have not exceeded 1% in any poll. Twenty did qualify
for the first two debates, and ten have already qualified for the next
two (with a few more close to doing so).  At least five candidates
have formally withdrawn, but several of those who will not likely
qualify for the next debates have indicated they are nevertheless
remaining in the race.

One very recent poll suggests the Biden, Sanders and Warren are
now in a three-way tie for the lead --- with Biden’s poll numbers
down, Sanders somewhat up, and Warren making the biggest poll
gains. But several polls released after the one with the three-way
tie have Biden back in a double-digit lead. Polls, at this stage, with
so many different standards of the persons they sample, sample
size, and subjective interpretation of data, are simply often
unreliable.

Perhaps more of a bona fide signal, Warren has in recent days
drawn very large crowds (12,000 in  St. Paul; 15,000 in Seattle).

Elizabeth Warren, 70, professorial, tenacious, and ambitious, 
for several years now, along with her senate colleague Bernie
Sanders, 77, has been a loud and persistent voice for Democrats
to move much more to the left. She proclaims herself a
“progressive” --- Sanders proudly accepts the term “socialist” ---
but on most issues it is difficult to tell them apart. The question is
whether Warren and Sanders are harbingers of some imminently
new redistributionist U.S. policies or throwbacks to old leftist
notions that American voters have rejected in the past.

So far, as I continually point out, we have had no evidence from
actual voters. Americans have had to depend on the very subjective
views of the media and on early polling, usually of “registered”
voters (and not the more credible group, “likely” voters). With
Warren’s recent crowd-drawing, we have an additional useful
metric for evaluating how the various candidates are doing. It is
not a dispositive metric, of course, because a particular crowd can
be staged, but if any candidate can routinely draw very large
audiences, it might well mean something. We need only recall that
Donald Trump’s huge rallies beginning in 2015 were early clues to
his political appeal. (His continued ability to draw large crowds
indicates that his political base is intact.)

Already, Biden, Sanders, Harris and Warren have had fractions
of momentum --- with Warren currently having hers --- but as we
saw so vividly (as a recent example) in the 2012 Republican
nomination contest --- Mike Huckabee (who led in early polls but
did not run), Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum,
Newt Gingrich, and finally, the winner Mitt Romney) --- many
candidates rise and fall in the course of a long and tough contested
campaign. The voters of the Democratic Party are still divided in
their ideological direction --- and those who lean very “progressive”
have yet to fully explain and make credible their controversial
policy programs and positions.

“Decision” 2020, as some might label it, remains a distance away,
but that does not mean we cannot take note of certain signals from
those who will likely actually vote.

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


Saturday, August 24, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Premature 2020 Conclusions?

There is a growing media consensus that the 2020 Democratic
presidential field has already narrowed to only three candidates.
Those three are Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Each of them is a senior person. Biden and Sanders have seen their
poll numbers drop very recently; Warren’s poll numbers have been
rising.

This triumvirate allegedly excludes Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg,
Julian Castro, Cory Booker, AndrewYang,  Tulsi Gabbard and
Marianne Williamson --- each of whom have attracted at least some
notice --- as well as Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke,
Steve Bullock who have also had some attention.

Aside from Biden, there has been no candidate considered a true
frontrunner. Five lesser-known candidates have already dropped
out, and a few more who have not qualified for the next debates are
expected to do so. About a dozen or more, however, might be
expected to remain in the race until actual voting begins.

Although the presumed triumvirate includes the party’s current
range of ideology, center-left to “progressive” left, it does not include
any of the candidates of the party’s younger generation.

It’s very important to remember that we have not yet heard from any
voters --- there are four months until the first caucus and primary.

The presumption that the race is down to three --- or even the five
(including Harris and Buttigieg) who maintain somewhat elevated
poll numbers --- seems obviously premature. Yes, the eventual
nominee might well be one of the three or five, but relying primarily
on polling at this stage is essentially speculative. What if some
well-known (self-funding) billionaire or celebrity enters the race?
What if these still early polls do not accurately reflect actual voter
sentiment? What if one of the now-leading candidates stumbles
badly?

With domestic and international events and circumstances
producing new headlines daily, drama in the economy and stock
market, and Donald Trump disrupting the political scene with
regularity, it would seem much too early to decide even the final
stages of the Democratic nomination contest.

We need to see what actual voters think.

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

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.