Monday, May 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: TV Debates Could Be The Key

As the date of the first Democratic presidential TV debate
approaches, it is becoming clear how this event might likely be key
to the initial sorting out by voters of the overlarge candidate field.

As now scheduled, the debate will take place in Florida on June 26
and 27 with as many as ten candidates on the stage for each night.

There are 24 “major” candidates now declared and actively
running, and most of them have, or will be, qualified for that
debate, resulting in some candidates being left off the stage even
if they have qualified.

Since  appearing in the first evening or the second evening of
debate, a certain unintended consequence will happen --- that is,
the chance impact of which candidates appear together.

What if, by the luck of the draw, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders
appear the same night? Or if they appear on different nights?
What if Pete Buttigieg and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke are on he
same night? Or different nights? What if Kamal Harris and
Elizabeth Warren share the stage? Or don’t?  Which current
underdogs will appear on which night, and in what combinations?

These questions don’t cover all the factors of how the public will
respond to the debaters, but it is an important unpredictable
element --- because TV debates often work significantly in
the viewer perception of contrasts between the skills and
personalities of the participants.

As the DNC has ruled, the determination of who will appear
on which night will be by chance, not by standing in the polls or
money raised.

Debate skill and projection of personality will also be important
factors. But if chance also determines who appears on which night
of the second debate the following month, voter sentiment might
remain undefined, and the large field might be at least partly
preserved into the new year and the first primaries.

This is the crux of the big question now, a month before the first
debate, about the nature of the Democratic contest --- will the
nominee be determined early, or in the primaries, or at the
convention?

A consequential question is whether or not the timing of selecting
the Democratic nominee matters to the ultimate outcome in
November. That question is obviously open to debate, and cannot
be answered now.

But with the Democratic Party apparently so divided on policies
(if not ideology), the potential of the TV debates to create voter
attitudes and enthusiasm or opposition remains very high.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Food And Dining Out In 2019

[On occasion, as a special feature for The Prairie Editor subscribers, 
I invite the venerable food critic Leo Mezzrow to write a column on 
a culinary topic. This one is about the state of the restaurant business 
today, and where to dine out in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and its 
environs. While my readership is national and worldwide, a 
significant number of readers either live in the area now, once lived 
here, or visit this now booming restaurant community. So I hope 
readers find  the list useful. ------ THE PRAIRIE EDITOR]

SPECIAL FOOD COMMENTARY
by Leo Mezzrow

The restaurant business, like so many other aspects in our American
culture, is going through a great deal of change. Some of this change
is good, and some of it is not so good, and most of it is being driven
by technology and economics. Some of it is also affected by changing
dining public tastes which, like all aspects of public fashion, are brief
and easily altered. While technically national inflation is deemed low
by financial institutions, prices seems to be rising notably for those
who dine out --- caused primarily by rising labor and food costs. Chain
restaurants, both low and higher end, seem to be affected the most,
but it can also impact the small neighborhood ethnic restaurant. Other
factors include increasing local regulations and rising local taxes,
especially in large urban cities. In short, it is a tough business getting
tougher. Somehow, however, the quality level generally of  U.S.
restaurants, and the food they serve, continues to rise.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is taking place in the Twin
Cities of Minnesota where, in less than a decade the local food culture
has blossomed. The seeds of this were sown in the decades before by
innovative local restaurateurs and their young talented chefs. Most of
those pioneers are gone now, and there were relatively few of them,
but they deserve much credit for provoking rising expectations in the
dining out public, especially among the young who have grown the
”foodie” population to a significant size. Interest in “good” food and
dining out has always been strong in the largest U.S. cities, and
certain smaller cities such as New Orleans and San Francisco, but
cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul have come to the new
culinary party later.

Below is a list of my favorite newer Twin Cites restaurants (listed
alphabetically) with brief descriptions of their cuisines.  I have only
included those which I have visited. These are not food reviews,
and readers can do an internet search for addresses, phone numbers,
hours and days open, and menus. This list is current, but restaurants
do close, so  I recommend an internet search before going, Every
dining experience is unique, as are each diner's expectations, so I
can't guarantee the good time I have had. Prices will vary. Some
readers might also know other restaurants which are their favorites.

I will try to update this list on another occasion. Bon Apetit!

[NOTE: This list does not include my favorite area restaurants 
which are longer-established such as TILIA, 112 EATERY, 
GORKHA PALACE, BIG MARINA, BAR LA GRASSA, 
PENINSULA, M STREET CAFE, MANCINI’S, etc. More
about them another time.]

MINNEAPOLIS

BAD WAITRESS NORTHEAST (American)
CAFE ALMA (innovative American)
CENTRO (Mexican)
COSTA BRAVA (Spanish tapas)
ESKER GROVE (innovative continental)
GIULIA (upscale Italian)
HAI HAI (Asian fusion)
THE LYNHALL (innovative American)
POPOL VUH (innovative Asian)
TAVOLA (Italian)
TULIBEE (innovative Nordic)
MOMO SUSHI (Japanese/Tibetan)
P.S. STEAK (upscale continental steak  house)
TEA HOUSE SOUTHEAST WEEKEND BUFFET (Szechuan/Hunan)

ST. PAUL


BAR BRIGADE (French)
COMMODORE (Continental)
HOLMAN'S TABLE (American)
LOUIS AT COSSETTA (upscale Italian steak house)
PAJARITO (Mexican)

SUBURBS

BELLECOUR French)
LATITUDE 14 (innovative Asian)

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is GOP Senate Control At Risk In 2020?

In addition to re-electing President Trump, retaining control of the
U.S. senate is critical to Republicans in the 2020 election cycle.

On paper, that control  is clearly at risk --- since more than twice as
many conservative seats than liberal seats are up for re-election, and
three of those GOP incumbents have already announced they are
not going to run again.

But paper is not reality, and only a few GOP seats are likely to have
serious contests in 2020. The seats of the three retiring GOP senators
are in heavily GOP states, as are most of the other GOP senators
running for re-election.

With A 53-47 current lead, the GOP can also afford to lose 1 or 2
net seats. Republican are already considered likely to take back a
set that was unexpectedly won by a Alabama Democrat in a 2018
special election when the Republican nominee was so controversial
that many Alabama conservative voters stayed home.

Two Republican incumbents are considered especially vulnerable
next year --- Arizona Senator Martha McSally and Colorado Senator
Corey Gardner --- but Democrats so far have been able to recruit a top
challenger only in Arizona (former astronaut Mark Kelly) In Colorado,
they have not yet done so.

In fact, in several contests strong potential Democratic challengers
have not yet been recruited with a number of possible strong liberal
candidates either choosing to run for president or taking a pass
in 2020. These include Texas, Colorado, Georgia,  and North Carolina.
Republicans likewise have not yet recruited formidable challengers to
potentially vulnerable liberal incumbents in Michigan and Minnesota
--- although there is at least one strong GOP potential candidate in
each of these states.

One Democratic incumbent senator, Tom Udall of New Mexico, is
also retiring, but like his retiring GOP colleagues, his is likely to 
remain a safe seat for his party.

The basic environment of the 2020 battle for control of the U.S.
senate has been known for some time. but Democratic prospects
for this contest, as well as the one for the White House have until
recently appeared to be favorable.  For the present, however, the
historically large (and likely unwieldy) number of Democratic
presidential candidates, and a weak recruitment of Democratic
senate challengers has clouded that optimism.

The growing difficulty in the U.S. senate races is that time is running
out. The nature of a U.S.senate race today, especially in states of even
modest size, requires almost all challengers to either raise a lot of
money early or be able to self-fund with considerable resources. There
are exceptions such as the 2018 Utah senate candidacy of Mitt Romney
to succeed retiring Senator Orren Hatch. But even the exceedingly
well-known Romney was running in a very conservative state, and was
in a position to self-fund if he had to do so

Control of the U.S. house in 2020 remains a complicated matter.
Democrats must defend a large number of seats they won in 2018 by
relatively small margins, several of them in districts won by Donald
Trump in 2016. Court-ordered redistricting continues to favor
Democrats, and their surprising strength among suburban women
in 2018 might continue in 2020. On the other hand, President Trump
was not on the ballot in 2018, and the booming economy with
historically low unemployment (particularly among blacks and
Hispanics) had not been as realized then as it is now --- at least  for
the time being. In 2018, Democrats did an excellent job of recruiting
challengers. In 2020, the onus of  this task falls to the Republicans.
Unlike senate races, candidates for the U.S. house have more time,
in most cases, to enter a race. For these and other reasons, a useful
assessment of the the battle for U.S. house control needs to wait for
more time to pass.

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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Another Day, Another Democrat Running For President

Until the Democratic TV presidential debates begin in late June,
the most notable political news appears to be the seemingly endless
announcements of candidacies of Democrats with ostensibly
serious credentials. After the entrance into the race by former
Vice President Joe Biden (at gate number 21), it might have been
supposed to be the end of it, but already we have two more,
including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and the prospects of
several more. Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Bill Di Blasio of New
York are signaling their interest, as is Steve Bullock of Montana.
Andrew Cuomo of New York is writing op eds laden with hints.
Friends of Michelle Obama say the former first lady cannot be ruled
out. Given the sudden rise of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who
knows what other obscure urban mayors or state legislators are
dreaming of instant 2020 political celebrity.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) now says the first two
debates will have no more than twenty participants, ten on successive
days, in each. It set rather low bars for qualification. Seventeen have
already qualified, two are almost qualified, and each of the remaining,
including all those still unannounced, would probably qualify by the
deadline two weeks before the first debate.

As I wrote previously, the DNC has tied its own hands by declaring a
boycott of the Fox network (for being too conservative), and thus
provides candidates excluded from the debates, and even those included
but low in the polls, with an incentive to remain in the race past their
otherwise normal shelf life --- resulting potentially with an excessively
large number of candidates on the Democratic state primary ballots.
If the latter occurs, the risk is that no candidate will have enough
delegates to secure the nomination before the July, 2020 Democratic
national convention in Milwaukee --- and that a bitter battle there
might split or dishearten the party’s already fractious voter base.

Some might argue that  a contested Democratic convention, which
hasn’t happened for more than 70 years, would give the liberal party
much needed TV coverage and inspire voter interest, but the record
shows that large divided Democratic fields in conventions of 1920
(44 ballots) and 1924 (103 ballots) produced losing tickets in
November against the Republican nominees. Moreover, no party
nomination field has ever been as large as the one for the 2020
Democratic contest.

Conventional wisdom, furthermore, has been mostly wrong so far in
the 2020 cycle. Bernie Sanders, the upstart of 2016, was said not to be
able to hold on to his base, Joe Biden was said likely to fade after he
formally announced. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke was said to be the
“charisma” candidate. A small-city mayor (Pete Buttigieg) was said
to have no chance to gain traction. More radical candidates (Elizabeth
Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker), it was said, would do well in
initial polls.

The current cycle, however, is taking several contrarian turns, with
Sanders and Biden showing resilient voter appeal, Buttigieg stealing
the charisma “show” from O’Rourke, and more radical candidates
(other than Sanders) trailing in the early polls. Some preoccupation
with impeaching President Trump also is not resonating with most
of the liberal party base, nor is much of the issues lurch to the left.

I have previously pointed out that President Trump has serious
problems for his re-election, particularly in the all-important
electoral college, including the rust belt states he won (Pennsylvania,
Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin)  and southern states he won (North
Carolina and Florida). I said he had few prospects of picking up states
he had  lost in 2016. Now, only a few months later, his prospects have
improved in most of the states he narrowly won in 2016 (particularly
Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida), and he has new
opportunities in some states he lost (Virginia, Nevada and Minnesota).

Most polls show Mr. Trump below 45% approval and above 50%
disapproval. Virtually all of the polls, however, are composed of
“eligible” voters or “registered” voters. The major poll which is
composed of “likely” voters shows Mr. Trump at about 50% approval
(currently at 50-47% approve). Polls of likely voters are usually much
more accurate. The establishment media is embracing the former,
and dismisses the latter. (Of course, they were certain Hillary Clinton
would win in 2016.)

Current conditions could easily change, Sanders and/or Biden could
fade. O’Rourke or Harris or another candidate or two could suddenly
catch on. The debates could change the whole picture of the contest.
Disclosures could force a candidate to withdraw. News, domestic or
international, could change the political environment. Trump could
lose some of his support.

But until now, conventional wisdom and establishment media
speculating don’t seem to be working.

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


Monday, April 29, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democrats' Presidential Debate Dilemma

The Democratic National Committee(DNC) has put itself into a
political conundrum of its own contrivance, and unless it resolves this
dilemma, it could negatively affect the liberal party’s attempt next
year to recapture the White House and defeat Donald Trump.

The circumstance of an historically large field of candidates in itself
is not necessarily problematic. Republicans in 2016 ended up with 17
major candidates at the outset of their national TV debates. GOP
officials like to say that their rules and control of the debates made
them successful, but it was probably more that the series of debates
took place on all the networks, and their ongoing spectacle attracted
large audiences which, thanks to a TV entertainment-savvy candidate
led to his upset win of the GOP nomination and his surprise victory
in November.

Before going further, a bit of presidential debate history.

The first formal TV debate occurred in 1960 between Vice President
Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. Kennedy’s appearance is
credited with boosting his eventual narrow victory, although polls of
radio audiences who only heard the debate thought Nixon had won
the debate encounter. The TV network then, and subsequently until
2016, controlled the format of the presidential debates, selecting the
locations, moderators, questions and rules of the debate. After the 2012
GOP debates which provoked a roller coaster of “winners” from debate
to debate, and charges that moderators were biased, the Republican
National Committee (RNC), as well as the DNC, decided to assume
some control. The 2016 GOP field required each debate to be in two
segments (to accommodate the number of candidates), and the RNC
insisted on input on the moderators. Since all the major five networks
(NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and FOX) had at least one debate, the
candidates  had to observe the rules, or risk being excluded from them.

The 2020 presidential debate cycle will begin in late June, 2019 with a
Democratic debate in Florida. Currently, there are likely to be more
than 20 “major”candidates in their field. Sixteen have already qualified
for the TV debates, and up to a half dozen more could qualify by June.
The DNC is setting up the rules for these debates, but one decision it
has made could end up self-sabotaging their own efforts.

Claiming that Fox News is biased against Democrats, the DNC has
announced it will not sanction any debate on the network. Inasmuch
as the other four networks are widely believed to be hostile to President
Trump, singling out the more conservative Fox  network has seems
ludicrous on its face. But the DNC would penalize any presidential
candidate who appeared in a Fox debate, presumably by excluding
them from the other debates.

Fox has quickly responded to the DNC by offering individual
Democratic candidates “town hall” programs of their own. Since Fox
has very large audiences, these town halls have so far been quite
successful, most notably perhaps the one with Bernie Sanders. Other
Democratic candidates are lining up for their own town halls --- which
constitute major free political advertising.

There is nothing now to prevent Fox from scheduling their own
presidential debate, albeit without DNC sanction, sometime in the
autumn or winter. Although they could be penalized, candidates lower
in the polls have little to lose and perhaps much to gain by defying the
DNC and appearing in the Fox debate. Bernie Sanders currently is a
Democratic frontrunner, and presumably need not fear DNC penalty.
If the DNC tried to exclude him from a debate, after what it did to him
in 2016 when he ran against Hillary Clinton, there would be massive
outrage and a  civil war among Democratic voters in response that
would threaten the Democrats’ chances in November. Senator Sanders
has already had success on Fox, and could appear in a Fox debate
therefore presumably with impunity. What would the other major
Democrats then do --- boycott Fox and allow Sanders and several other
candidates the free advertising of a  debate by themselves?

The decision by the DNC to boycott Fox seems ultimately arbitrary
and untenable. Fox is no more biased than any of the other networks,
and in offering Democratic candidates town halls ostensibly less so. Its
large audience base makes its air time desirable to any candidate, high
or low in the polls.

It is overwhelmingly tempting now, as former GOP White House press
secretary Sean Spicer and others have asserted, for Fox to schedule a
presidential debate later in the year, with or without DNC sanction. If
some candidates boycott it, it will only increase the audience size and
interest in it, especially if Bernie Sanders and/or other major candidates
appear in it.

It would seem to be good sense for the DNC to drop its boycott of Fox.

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


Monday, April 22, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Potholes 2020

The so-called “road to the White House” is strewn with potholes this
cycle, and no one is getting there at full speed with their gas pedal
down all the way.

Both parties have road crews out this spring trying to repair the road,
but so far it’s difficult to stay ahead of new potholes appearing to
disrupt the political traffic.

Since the Republican nomination is so far firmly held by incumbent
President Donald Trump --- and his assumption of vindication
following the issue and publication of the redacted Mueller report,
and since he already occupies the White House, the road’s potholes
are primarily an obstacle for the historically very large field of
Democratic challengers. (But Mr. Trump has his own set of
potholes ahead.)

Early assumptions made in late 2018 and early 2019 have mostly
been upended already, and the Democratic Party itself seems to
have decided the potholed road isn’t worth the trouble --- and
seem ready to take a detour to the house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their problem is that there is no known map to guide them on
such a detour, and they risk ending up in a political cul-de-sac with
no timely exit.

The surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 has seemed to usher
in a suspension of many political rules and cliches both in the U.S.
and across the world.

A Jewish TV sitcom comedian (with no political experience) has
just been elected president by a landslide in historically anti-semitic
Ukraine. Upsets from the left and right have recently taken place in
Brazil, Italy, Austria, Mexico and elsewhere in Europe and South
America. Hitherto popular leaders in France, Canada, Spain,
Germany and Turkey are seeing grass roots uprisings challenging
their power. Citizen everywhere seem to be upset, impatient and
politically impertinent.

I think it is time to recognize that the U.S. presidential political
rule book will be of little use this cycle. A new strain of political
microbes seem on the move globally, and there is not yet a way for
political establishments to thwart them.

Even the re-election of Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu’s
government recently reflects voter agitation with conventional
political wisdom. Accused of wrongdoing, challenged by a united
group of respected generals in a new party, considered by many
older voters to have been in office too long, Netanyahu was written
off by hostile U.S. and Israeli media as a sure loser. And indeed,
many older Israeli voters who had supported him in the past did not
vote for him. But unexpectedly, young voters did vote for him, and
his party not only gained seats, but won more than any other party
--- which was unpredicted.

The first U.S. presidential TV debates, less than two months away,
will clarify some voter attitudes toward the large number of
Democratic candidates, but even that won’t stop the surprises.

The 2020 political road is likely to be bumpy all the way.

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What's Already Different About 2020

The 2020 presidential election cycle has recently begun in earnest,
and already there are visible differences between this unfolding
campaign cycle and 2016, as well as earlier cycles.

Some of these differences are obvious. Except for Donald Trump
and Bernie  Sanders, the other major candidates did not run in
2016 --- although some of the Democratic hopefuls had
considered running, or did run, in earlier cycles.

In 2016, the largest field was on the Republican side which initially
included 17 major candidates. In 2020, it is the Democrats who have
the large field --- in fact, it already has 18 formally-announced major
candidates, with 3-5 more expected to enter,

In recent decades, primaries and caucus have become increasingly
important, replacing smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, and political
deals. Even the winner-take-all of a state’s delegates is no more.

In those recent decades, a tradition of Iowa being the first caucus,
and New Hampshire holding the first primary was observed by both
parties. This appears to be continued in 2020, but moving up of large
state primaries, most notably California, from later in the cycle,
might de facto replace them as some individual campaigns ignore
Iowa and New Hampshire for the larger treasure of delegates to be
won in California and Texas which will vote soon after.

State presidential caucuses have smaller voter participation, often
dramatically and undemocratically so, and for the 2020 cycle, two
states, Minnesota and Washington, have already abandoned their
caucuses for primaries. This trend might well continue.

Absentee balloting for cause has long been practiced, but many
states have adopted early or mail-in voting, or absentee voting
without cause. Same-day voting registration is taking place in more
states. These changes are causing election night results, as many
were in 2018, to be inconclusive until the following day. A reprise
of Bush vs. Gore 2000 could happen again.

The 2020 cycle could be one where third party candidates might
affect the outcome. There will be Green, Libertarian and Socialist
candidates as usual next year, but at least one notable independent
candidate, business executive Howard Schultz, has said he will run.
If many voters are unsatisfied with both major party nominees,
third party and non-voter totals could be significant.

Super-delegates, especially in the Democratic Party, played a very
significant role in 2016, but a new rule bars these delegates from
voting on the first ballot at the national convention, They will be
able to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. It is unclear
how his reform will play out.

In an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns,
a few states are trying to require candidates to make their tax
returns public in order to be on the November ballot. This
controversial move will almost certainly go before the U.S. supreme
court before taking effect.

At the outset of 2015, Jeb Bush was  an early favorite, and Chris
Christie the candidate with lots of charisma.  Neither got very far
once the debates and voting began. This cycle, Joe Biden (not yet
formally announced) leads in most polls, and Beto O’Rourke was
pegged as the charisma candidate. Already, Bernie Sanders is
challenging Biden in the early polls, and Pete Buttigieg is proving
so far to be a challenge to O’Rourke’s appeal. Once the debates
begin, other candidates could catch on.

Campaign funds, as always, play a role early in presidential
campaigns, but the ease with which most of the Democratic
candidates have initially raised $5 million or more, and the large
number of candidates, might diminish the psychological impact of
fundraising. In 2016, Donald Trump had the personal resources to
self-fund, and won. 2020 candidates who can do the same also can
lessen the impact of early fundraising of those candidates who
don’t have big personal resources.

Both parties face defections from their traditional voter bases in
2020. A preview of this occurred in 2018 when many suburban
women voted Democratic and many Hispanics voted Republican.
Next year could see further GOP erosion in the suburbs, and further
switching of Hispanic, Jewish and black voters to the GOP.

In the 2020 cycle, there is much incentive to garner media attention
early, especially in 2019. This is likely to tempt presidential
campaigns to take chances and make bold moves and statements.
Some will be successful, and some will backfire. All of them increase
the element of surprise and unpredictability into the campaign cycle.

So far, President Trump does not have even a remotely serious
challenger to his nomination. Barring the unforeseen, he will be on
the ballot in November, 2020. His proven ability to provoke, anger,
shock or please various groups of voters is perhaps the primary
carryover from the last presidential election.

Otherwise, 2020 goes into much new political territory.

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