Thursday, February 15, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2018 Political News Catch-Up 1

SENATE RECRUITMENT
SECOND-THOUGHTS?

There are some reports that Republican U.S. senate
leaders and certain local GOP activists are becoming
increasingly nervous about some of the recruits they
have enlisted to challenge the numerous vulnerable
Democratic incumbents up for re-election in the 2018
national mid-term elections. Conservatives currently
hold a very narrow majority, and given a numerical
opportunity to pick up seats this cycle (but not in the
next one), they fear losing control --- if not in 2018,
then in 2020, the next presidential election. The special
election in Alabama shook their confidence, and they do
face serious challenges to three seats they now hold in
Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee. A good opportunity in
turning-red Ohio was also lost when their strong
candidate had to withdraw for family health reasons.
This leaves about ten vulnerable seats to pick up, but
unlike the 2010, 2014 and 2016 cycles (when they were
able to recruit routinely strong challengers), they feel
recent doubts about some of their likely nominees.
In some cases, they seem to be over-reacting --- in
Arizona and Missouri, for example --- but in other
races --- such as Ohio, Montana, Wisconsin, Indiana,
and the special senate election in Minnesota --- they
do not yet seem to have first-rank candidates. What’s
more, senate campaign fundraising so far trails that
by Democrats who are going all-out in a year they feel
history is on their side.

WHAT DO 2018 PUBLIC OPINION 
POLLS TELL US?
Public opinion polling, especially in competitive races,
has in recent years become less and less predictive and
useful --- especially those published well before election
day. Even the cliche that a public poll is only a “snapshot
in time” has become quite questionable as the number
of those voters polled, registered and likely, is too small
for a reasonable true margin of error, and many voters
refuse to be polled. Too often, public polls become part
of the “fake news” syndrome now endemic in political
reportage. A case in point was recent “generic” polling
of the Congress. Only a few weeks ago, most polls said
that Democrats had a large lead in double digits. Most
recently, a  major poll has reported that Republicans
now have a small lead in this poll. Such volatility in so
short a time suggests that most public polls, if indeed
they are snapshots, are out of focus (and, if you will,
not suitable for framing). Perhaps an exception to the
published polls. private polling for parties, groups and
candidates usually are more carefully done and probably
more accurate --- but these are polls rarely seen except
by those who pay for them. President Trump’s recent
significant rise in published polls also indicate, as does
the rapid change in the generic congressional poll, how
volatile the electorate is today. We might wish it
otherwise, but until we get close to election day, most
polls tell us little of value.

DEFICIT FOLLY?
If history instructs us about budget deficits, it is that
in the long-term, they are unsustainable.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: So Far, No Blue Wave In Minnesota

A resignation by a liberal U.S. senator, the unexpected
retirement of a popular liberal congressman, and the
status quo in two state legislative special elections do not
support a notion of a coming “blue” anti-Trump wave in
Minnesota, a state the president almost won in 2016, and
which had been trending slightly “red” prior to this year’s
mid-term elections.

To be fair, there is no evidence yet of a “red” wave, either.
On the other hand, this typically “purple” state offers
each party some opportunities in 2018. On paper, the
Republicans have more to gain, especially in a cycle that
usually favors Democrats nationally.

Recent developments, including the retirement of
liberal Congressman Rick Nolan and the standoff in
two state legislative special elections, have boosted
conservative aspirations. Democrats (here called
Democratic-Farmer-Laborites or DFLers) had expected to
keep Nolan’s 8th District, and to possibly win a GOP state
house seat in a special election. Now, MN-8 is up for grabs,
they lost the state house race by 20 points, and almost lost
a state senate seat in another special election.

The biggest news is that now the GOP has a serious
voter ID and GOTV organization to match the formidable
DFL Wellstone Alliance. The Republican version is
Advantage Grass Roots, a group active this year in 27
states, and which was notably successful nationally in
2014 and 2016. Their Minnesota operation, and new GOP
Chair Jennifer Carnahan, seem determined to keep their
party competitive in 2018.

While the GOP also stands to pick up another DFL
congressional seat in southeastern Minnesota (now held
by retiring Tim Walz who is running for governor),  the
DFL is hopeful to pick up the congressional seat now held
by conservative Jason Lewis who is running for his first
re-election.

Republicans are also buoyed by the prospects of winning
back the governorship, now held by retiring DFLer Mark
Dayton who, after two terms, is at the low end of his
popularity. Former GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty is believed
to be on the verge of announcing his candidacy, although
he would likely have to go to a primary election to win his
party’s nomination. 2014 GOP nominee Jeff Johnson and
former GOP state chair Keith Downey are the frontrunners
for party endorsement at the state convention before the
primary. On the DFL side, the recent precinct caucuses
have winnowed the large field to three main candidates,
frontrunner Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, and State
Representative Erin Murphy. There might also be a
competitive DFL primary.

Less likely would be a GOP win in the race against
appointed U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the former lt. governor
replacing Al Franken who resigned. Unlike senior Senator
Amy Klobuchar, Mrs. Smith has a potentially serious race
this year --- although Republicans have yet to come up with
a “big name” opponent. GOP State Senator Karin Housely
could develop into a formidable candidate, but like her DFL
opponent is unproven as a statewide campaigner.

Minnesota is becoming easily the most fascinating and
newsworthy battleground state in the nation in 2018 with
major tests for both parties in statewide, legislative, four
congressional and two U.S. senate races.

What’s more, each week seems to being some new surprise
and political development. It would appear that almost
anything could happen this year in Minnesota.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "The Strangest Lobster Dinner"

[NOTE TO PRAIRIE EDITOR READERS: When I
edited and published a Minneapolis newspaper in the
1970s and 80s, I occasionally combined my role as
a ficrion writer, restaurant critic and political
journalist as I did in the fictional parody below. It 
turned out be one of the most popular newspaper
pieces I wrote. I published it in 1977 --- so younger
readers might not recognize some of the details in it
(a very high-end meal in those days cost about $25.00)
but in spite of the four decades that have passed since
then, I think it still resonates, and I hope my readers
still find it amusing.]
----------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn’t too long ago that a lobster dinner with all the
trimmings cost less than five dollars. Remember? And do
you remember how the waiter would tie a paper bib
around your neck for glamorous hygiene --- after all, this
was lobster and not spaghetti!

Then, somehow, everything got out of hand. Or out of
pocket, actually. Six,seven, eight, nine, ten dollars and
beyond. Finally, there was no price. Only asterisks on the
menu. When you looked at the bottom of the menu for the
explanation of the asterisks, it always referred you to your
waiter/waitress for today’s prices.

Today’s prices! Need I say more?

It has been eleven years since I ordered a lobster dinner.
Recently, I reached a kind of breaking point on this.
Everyone has a limit. On my budget, it has been necessary
to do without. But last week, I couldn’t hold out any longer.

I went to one of the city’s best restaurants to break my
voluntary lobster fast. The oak-panel walls and crimson
tablecloths only heightened my anticipation. (All day at
work, I thought I smelled melted butter. Melted butter!)

My dinner companion ordered a conventional prime rib
dinner. (If I was going to wreck my budget, she was going
to do her part.) The waiter nodded his head; he got this
order routinely. The he turned to me. “And what will you
have this evening, “ he asked with a gratuitous smile.

“What is the price of the Maine lobster today? I asked
cautiously.

The waiter smiled again. “Many persons ask this out of
curiosity,” he said.

“I’m not being curious,” I told him. “I intend to order a
lobster.”

His smile evaporated. It seemed that he now looked at me
paternally. “We have a very large menu, sir, with many
entrees I’m sure you’ll be glad you ordered. Take my
advice. Forget the lobster. If it’s seafood you want, try the
pompano en papilotte. It’s excellent.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think I want pompano tonight. I’ll
have the lobster.”

“Well, perhaps the rack of lamb or the tenderloin tips?”

“Lobster.”

“You insist, then?”

“I insist.”

“Very well,” the waiter said with a look of great resigned
melancholy.

The he did something very odd. He leaned over and picked
up my spoon. He began tapping the spoon very loudly
against my water glass. It was a very large dining room,
and filled to capacity tht night, so it took several loud taps
before the whole dining room became silent. Everyone was
looking at our waiter.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said solemnly, “the party at
this table has ordered the Maine lobster. The bidding is
now open.”

Immediately, the room became agitated with shouts of
“Fifteen!” “Twenty-two fifty!” “Thirty!” and so on until
after about four minutes of spirited bidding, our waiter
closed the auction at $96.75. At this point, everyone else
resumed their dinners, and the waiter turned to me.

It is our custom to charge our guests one dollar below
the highest bid for the lobster. Your dinner this evening
will be $95.75, and will include your entree, the house
salad, potato, dinner rolls and beverage. Dessert and
tax is not included.

I was so stunned by all this that I didn’t saya word. It
was too late, anyway, because the waiter was gone.

As he placed my salad in front of me a few minutes
later, I attempted to regain control of the situation.

“You know,” I said to him, “I have no intention of
paying a hundred dollars for my dinner.”

“With all due respects, sir,”  he replied, “you insisted
on having the lobster after my fair warning. Your order,
while verbal, is quite binding, I assure you. The
restaurant’s attorney have checked this quite
thoroughly. But I can tell you if there is a legitimate
hardship in your case, you might apply for our Fruit of
the Sea Fellowship.”

“Fellowship? In a restaurant? You must be kidding.”

“Not at all. Just fill out this form in duplicate while I
get your dinner rolls. The maitre d’ will meet with our
comptroller and the sous chef to review your
application. Our policy is to approve or reject a
fellowship application before serving the lobster.”

He put the application form and a ball point pen in
front of me. In addition to questions about my gross
earnings for the past five years, location of any body
scars or tattoos, and whether or not I voted for Ed
Muskie for president in 1972 (do I detect a fish bias
here?), it asked if my state fishing license had ever
been suspended or revoked. With misgivings about
the treatment of my civil rights in this matter, but
now too hungry to care, I quickly filled out the form
and gave it to the waiter who dashed off to the kitchen.

When he returned, he was beaming --- but it was now
with a noblesse oblige smile. “We are always pleased to
make our lobster available to persons such as yourself
who can’t afford it,” he said. “The maitre d’ has asked
me to inform you that your fellowship has been
approved. He was regarding me with a look one
reserves for one’s lessers.

It wan’t long before my lobster dinner arrived. The
waiter presented it with considerable flourish. It looked
stupendous.

Today the tail, tomorrow the claws, I thought to myself
as I plunged my seafood fork into the succulent white
lobster flesh.

A terrible noise occurred as I did this, and raised the
first forkful of lobster to pass through my lips. A harsh
voice yelled out, “Don’t eat that lobster, mister!”

I looked up and abut a dozen men, dressed in work
clothes and carrying signs, approached our table.
The signs read: ‘LOBSTER WETS THE WHISTLE OF
THE RICH AND SOAKS THE POOR FISHERMAN!”
“LOBSTER PRICES TAP FISHERMEN!” “UNFAIR TO
FISHERMEN!”

This can’t be happening, I thought to myself. My dinner
companion broke into tears.

On reaching our table, the first protestor grabbed my
lobster, and threw it agains the oak-panel wall.

“That poor man’s fellowship,” said an elderly matron,
sitting at a table next to ours.

I stood up and looked at out waiter who had retreated
about twenty feet away to a safe distance.

“I want a New York strip sirloin, medium rare, with
hash brown potatoes,” I screamed at him at the top
of my voice.

All at once, the room became silent. The protestors
noiselessly made their way out of the restaurant. The
other diners went back to their meals. A busboy picked
my lobster off the floor and took it away.

After I sat down, the maitre d’ came over to our table
and told me that, under the circumstances, dessert
would be on the house.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 1977, 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Pawlenty Makes His Move

Although he has not yet formally announced his candidacy
for governor of Minnesota in 2018, former two-term
governor and 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty
has resigned his position as CEO of the DC-based Financial
Services Roundtable. a non-profit advocacy group for the
banking industry.

The only conclusion that might reasonably drawn from
Pawlenty’s action (he is only 57) is that he has decided to run
again for governor, a quest he had already publicly stated he
was considering.

The timing of his resignation -- just before Minnesota’s
precinct caucuses --- also sent a signal to Republican voters
that it was too early to make commitments in the governor’s
race.

In fact, GOP turnout at the caucuses was less than 1% of the
Republican Party’s voters in the state, and as it has been in
recent years, virtually meaningless. None of the already
announced GOP candidates has yet to develop strong support.
Jeff Johnson, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2014, holds a
lead in most straw polls, but these only measure a tiny number
of party activists, and none of these polls so far have included
Pawlenty.

Minnesota is almost certainly going to be one of the key
battleground states in the 2018 national mid-term elections.
With a retiring Democratic (here called the Democratic-
Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) governor, the Gopher State is one
of the few states where the GOP could make a pick-up. Since
controversial junior Senator Al Franken resigned unexpectedly
at the end of 2017, there will now also be two U.S. senate seats
on the ballot next November. The former Franken seat, now
filed with DFL appointee Tina Smith, could also be won by the
Republicans --- although the party has yet to come up with a
big-name challenger for the seat. DLFers hold five of the eight
congressional seats, but four of the eight (two held by each
party) are competitive this year ---the largest percentage of
close U.S. house races in one state nationally.

Complicating predictions about this cycle is that fact that
Donald Trump almost carried Minnesota in 2016. Although
this state has alternated between being “blue” and “red” in
recent decades, no GOP candidate for president has won here
since 1972.

Recent polling shows that the two party bases, including GOP
support for President Trump, remains mostly unchanged
since 2016.

Some good news for DLFers at the precinct caucuses just held
was that liberal activist turnout was clearly stronger than
conservative activist turnout. But precinct caucuses only
attract a tiny percentage of those who vote in November. Most
competitive nominations in Minnesota are now settled in the
party primaries.The party endorsement process in both
parties is clearly undemocratic and often self-defeating ---
and has been in decline for several cycles.

Mr. Pawlenty, by entering the race after the caucuses, could
easily by-pass party endorsement at the summer GOP
convention, and go directly to the Republican primary on
August 14. In that primary, he would be the strong favorite.

On the DFL side, retiring Congressman Tim Walz from
southern Minnesota had a strong lead at the recent DFL
precinct caucuses, unexpectedly so in the Twin Cities. He
might be able to avoid a primary contest, but he has several
well-known DFL officials competing with him. In any event,
he is now the clear favorite to be the DFL nominee.

With Pawlenty appealing to suburban and some urban
voters, and Walz appealing to some exurban and rural
voters, each party would be trying to expand their base.

A Pawlenty-Walz gubernatorial contest next November in
Minnesota could be the marquee statehouse race of the cycle
in the nation.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Monday, February 5, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is All News Fake?

We are going though a period when so-called partisanship
is provoking widespread allegations that virtually everything
being communicated is “fake,” a lie, a misrepresentation,
false --- and even worse, a calumny, a conspiracy, abusive
or defamatory.

“Fake news” is the trendy phrase of the moment, as is the
assertion “all politicians lie.”

What do we, as individuals and consumers of so much
contemporary communications in the conventional media,
social media and internet, as well as face-to-face discourse
and conversation, make of this?

I suggest  it might be useful to step back and re-examine
just what communications, media, political discourse and
our ubiquitous private conversations about public life
truly are.

To begin with, "the media" is a relatively young institution.
Newspapers and books didn’t exist until about a little more
than half a millennium ago. All early newspapers were little
more than crude propaganda tools --- hyper-fake news, if
will. Until only a few decades ago, newspapers remained so.
(Some assert they continue so to the present day.)

Broadcast media are less than a century old, and films
only a bit older then that, but neither any more provably
“honest” than any other form of communications. The
sudden appearance of the internet and social media only
meant that the means of reaching many more persons was
increased. If anything, the original manipulative motive of
news communications was only intensified and expanded.

The bottom line is that virtually all communications, by
whatever means, have always been intended to persuade,
manipulate, and yes, sometimes intimidate.

But, having asserted that, I do not suggest that we must
despair or necessarily be dragooned and bullied by the
news communications around us.

There are, as it is said, “facts on the ground.” Yes, the
manipulative aspect of news communications even tries
to undermine these “facts” with various techniques
(most notoriously the selective use of so-called statistics).
Even visual and photographic facts can be, and are,
routinely distorted.

So what is to be done?

The answer, as I see it, is to decrease one’s dependence on
the claims of others, especially sources and authorities
who have an “axe to grind,” and to rely more and more on
one’s own powers and reources to verify and interpret.

The end-result might not be “truth” (in a very pure and
ultimately impossible sense), but if we are to advance from
the falsity and insincerity which so dominates public life
today, we need to significantly increase the transparency
of public life with a wise and useful restoration of some
(always accountable) privacy.

The real fake dichotomy is that public life must be either
completely transparent or completely secret. The tension
between these extremes is the natural ally exploited by the
pandemic of fake news today. This abstracting human
behavior into verbal paradigms is the enemy of doing
“the right thing in a right way.”

I will no doubt be labelled “naive” for suggesting each and
every citizen increase their personal vigilance for receiving
“news.” But what is the alternative? At the threshold of an
age of artificial intelligence and even more unprecedented
communications techniques, it’s still the best, and perhaps
the only, defense we have.

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

Thursday, February 1, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democrats' Big Blunder At S.O.T.U.

I have consistently avoided making predictions about
who will win the 2018 national mid-term elections. I have
suggested that both national parties have opportunities
to do well, and I have conceded that Democrats have much
better prospects in U.S. house races, and the Republicans
have much better prospects in U.S. senate races. Democrats
might also have better prospects to make net gains in
state legislative races and governorships. I think that is
a fair and non-partisan assessment.

I have also consistently suggested that that the current
strategy by Democratic leaders in the party apparatus
and in Congress to obsess on what President Trump says
and not what he does is short-sighted and self-defeating.
This strategy reached its apparent apotheosis at Mr.
Trump’s state of the union (S.O.T.U.) address to Congress
during which the Democratic members performed like
spoiled children and disgraced themselves before a large
national TV audience. Did Democrats think that sitting.
grimacing, or avoiding clapping during the non-partisan
moments, including when it was announced that black
and Hispanic unemployment had reached recent historic
lows, or when the president reaffirmed the respect of
standing for the American flag, made a positive
impression on most voters in the TV and other audiences?

I continue to withhold predictions about November, 2018,
but I will say that IF Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the faces of the
Democratic election effort , and IF the strategy of
shutting down the government by liberal senators, and
disrespecting political news that they themselves have
clamored for, are good strategies for electing Democrats
in 2018, the liberal party is in for a VERY unpleasant
surprise on election night, 2018.

It will not be a “blue” night in that case --- but Democrats
will likely be exceedingly blue.

Democrats had to endure just such a surprise on
election night, 2016.

Have they learned nothing from that experience--- and
the year that has followed?

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Period Of Adjustment

As the political calendar goes into February,  a certain
period of ticket adjustment takes place prior to the
November mid-term elections. This adjustment will
continue to a decreasing degree until April and May
when many filing deadlines for state and federal offices
will have been passed. This cycle, it will be followed
by some key and possibly serious primary contests.

Most incumbents who will be retiring or will run for
other offices have already publicly stated their intentions,
but some in potentially critical races have not. Most
challengers in likely competitive races have already
declared their candidacies, but others have held out until
now.

Races for the U.S. house and senate usually require more
lead-time because these races, when competitive, require
substantial fundraising.

A case in point recently took place in Minnesota where
unexpectedly Democratic Senator Al Franken resigned,
and his appointed successor will be required to run for
election this cycle instead of 2020. This seat could become
a competitive race, but state Republicans lacked few
“name” figures  who could credibly raise in a relatively
short period the tens of millions of dollars required for
such a contest. One such figure, former governor and
presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty, was immediately
sought after by local and national Republicans to run in
this race. But Pawlenty had been known to be considering
a comeback (he had retired in 2010 after two terms) as
governor. His senate decision would have to be made in
weeks instead of the months he could wait before a
gubernatorial announcement, and, despite assurances
probably made to him by the national GOP senate
campaign committee and others, necessary fundraising
in a year with so many other GOP challengers in
vulnerable Democratic senate races would have been
problematic. Pawlenty chose to pass on a  difficult
senate race, but remains considering the gubernatorial
race where so far announced GOP candidates have not
produced a clear frontrunner.

Another case in point is Ohio where GOP State Treasurer
Josh Mandel had, more or less, cleared the field for his
party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic
Senator Sherrod Brown who had been considered
vulnerable in 2018. Unexpectedly, with only abut a month
before the filing deadline, Mr. Mandel announced his
withdrawal from the race because of a serious family
health crisis. Ohio Republicans have not yet been able to
recruit a “name” figure, and a  key “pick-up” opportunity
might be lost.

In Arizona, where incumbent GOP Senator Jeff Flake is
retiring after open conflict with President Trump, it was
thought the race to fill his seat might be a replay of the
recent GOP loss in Alabama (where an off-the-wall GOP
nominee lost a special election). But now, Congresswoman
Martha McSally, a respected conservative, has entered the
race, and if she survives the primary, could salvage the
seat for the GOP.

In contrast, senior GOP Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah
waited until very late to announce his retirement, but
former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was
always available in this heavily Republican state, and is
now running (as a heavy favorite) for the seat.

It has been widely noted that an unusual number of
senior  conservative U.S. house committee chairs
have announced their retirements so far this cycle.
This is partly an intended outcome inasmuch as the
GOP term-limits committee chairs who usually have to
wait many years to achieve top committee positions,
and then have an inducement to retire after their
chair terms are up. Unlike previous eras when most
chairs held their positions for decades and remained
in Congress in their 80s and 90s, this brings in a new
generation of members in a much more timely manner
(although it can, in some cases, result in unexpected
competitive contests in a given cycle.)

As I have suggested in recent weeks, any predictions of
a “blue” or “red” electoral wave in 2018, are premature,
especially with so many tickets in key races not yet
determined, and the state of the economy next
November not yet clear.

But after the period of political fine-tuning now taking
place, the paths to the political outcomes of 2018 will
become clearer.

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