Monday, November 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Synchronous News And Other Perils

Friends and others I speak with regularly (who are also smarter
and wiser than I am) tell me that the recent emergence of
synchronous communications is a growing peril in our society
today.

“Synchronous” is a fancy adjective (derived from two Greek
words meaning “together” and “time”) for which we might
substitute the simpler word “instant.”

This advanced velocity of communications appears in many
aspects of contemporary life including science and technology.
economics and commerce, psychology and medicine, and
politics and public relations

I only feel competent to speak about the latter, alhough I note the
recent claim for a breakthrough in quantum computing in which
data speed is taken to levels beyond what our mere minds can
fully understand.

Synchronous communication has been developing for centuries,
beginning perhaps with the invention of the printing press, and
picking up speed with advances of the telegraph, telephone,
film, radio, television --- and now, the internet.

The internet, and its social media derivatives, have now brought
us and our devices (computers, smart phones, etc.) to virtual
and near-universal “instant” communications.

The plus-side to this phenomenon is the potential for better
transparency in our public life, including more honesty and
accountability.  The minus-side appears in the potential for a
critical loss of credibility of communications of all kinds,
particularly those concerning public policy, public interests,
and politics.

It is timely that I raise this discussion now because we have
begun the campaign cycle of the 2020 presidential and other
national-state elections.

The modern pathologically manipulative techniques of news
and public information can be traced to early in the last
century under totalitarian regimes in Germany and Russia.
The word “propaganda” came into usage. Today, we have the
notion of “fake news” (although ironically, some who assert
certain news is fake are not themselves being honest) as a term
covering misleading and plainly wrong information distributed
over various media (and by word-of-mouth).

Without attempting here to specify from the innumerable
examples of ”fake news” now circulating, I caution all readers
--- be they on the left, right or center --- to treat the political
news they receive over the next year with heightened skepticism
and care. Media reporting bias is at (unacceptably) high levels,
and hitherto respected media venues are no longer dependable
in reporting events, quotations, and statistics.

Politicians and political parties, of course, have always
promoted their issues and points of view. In the past, however,
the media and other public referees have acted as a correcting
force to the public discussions. In my view, this is no longer
dependably true.

This places unprecedented responsibility on each of us to use
our critical faculties, common sense and open-mindedness in
the next year --- if we want to get it right and make the best
choices at the ballot box.


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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Does Bloomberg Change The Game?

The possibility now exists that former New York City Mayor
Michael Bloomberg could enter the contest for the Democratic
nomination president soon --- well after those already in the race
(17 of them), and after 9 others who entered and later withdrew.

It was a record-large field to begin with, and three official
nationally-televised debates have already been held. So what has
changed the mind of the pragmatic Bloomberg about running for
president?

He was well-known for his outstanding record as mayor of the
nation’s largest city. Years before that, he was a successful
businessman culminating in his becoming a billionaire.

At the same time, he is not a long-time Democrat, is 77 years
old, and is known as an outspoken moderate in a party that in
recent years has been moving to the left.

It was the latter, in fact, that motivated Mr. Bloomberg earlier
to organize for a 2020 presidential run. But when former Vice
President Joe Biden entered the race, Bloomberg closed down
his campaign. Although Biden and Bloomberg are very  different
political personalities, they appeal to many of the same
Democratic voters.

Now that Biden’s early frontrunner status is being seriously
challenged from the left, and some observers say he is fading,
Bloomberg sees himself as the only political figure that can
prevent he nomination of a redistributiomist leftist such as
Senator Elizabeth Warren or Senator Bernie Sanders, the
currently two leading challengers to Biden.

What makes the Bloomberg candidacy feasible so late in the
game is his virtually unlimited access to campaign money, his
organization previously put in place, and his moderate and
pragmatic problem-solving national reputation.

At the  same time, he faces eertain drawbacks: his age, the
unpopularity of big city mayors outside urban America, his
paternal liberalism (he banned carbonated beverages in New
York City), his wealth, and his bold antipathy to the radical
progressives in his adopted party. 

The Democratic Party, all polls and surveys indicate, currently
is severely divided by gradations center-left to radical left.
Party activists lean to the latter, but all indications, lacking any
actual voting, are that moderate liberals still make up a sizable
percentage of the Democratic electorate.

Michael Bloomberg knows this, and believes that if the
Democrats nominate Elizabeth Warren or another "neo-socialist,"
Donald Trump will be re-elected.,

Persons purportedly speaking for him say. if he runs, he will
skip Iowa and New Hampshire --- and concentrate on Super
Tuesday and subsequent primaries. Because of his huge
financial resources, he can seriously compete in most states
and begin to accumulate delegates --- and thus block Warren or
Sanders from locking up the nomination before the July
convention. In Milwaukee, he therefore could play a decisive
role in the outcome.

So far, it’s a lot of maybes, but the extraordinary 2020 political
atmosphere and environment suggests that this cycle, as in
the last one, could see some unprecedented unlikelihoods
become political realities.


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

Friday, November 8, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Parties Change Clothes

I have been suggesting for some time now that our two major
political parties are each undergoing a political transformation.

If we employ the traditional imagery of a Republican wearing a
three-piece suit or a designer dress, and a Democrat wearing
blue jeans or an off-the rack skirt, I say the two parties are
changing their political wardrobes. Today’s Republican is more
likely to wear working clothes, and today’s Democrat likely to
dress upscale befitting his or her new upper middle class status.

The fact is that more blue collar, rural and small town voters,
many of whom voted Democratic in the past, are now populist
conservatives responding to the call “to make America great
again.” A the same time, many suburban women, new-rich
urban entrepreneurs, university-educated millennials, and urban
ethnic voters, many of whom might be considered more
conservative in the past, say they are now distributionist
progressive voters responding to the siren of “tax the rich.”

The top political agents for this transformation currently, in
great irony, are a former New York City liberal real estate
developer (and  TV personality), Donald Trump, leading the
populist conservative surge --- and two millionaire politicians,
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, leading the distributionist
progressive surge.

We are witnessing in recent elections,  more union members and
other blue collar voters voting Republican. Simultaneously, more
and more new-rich high tech billionaires and millionaires,
educated urban professional young persons and upscale suburban
females are moving sharply to the left.

Some might be tempted to explain this in terms of differing
responses to Donald Trump. While the highly controversial and
disruptive president does provoke deeply-felt  reactions, the
political transformations began well before he appeared, and
likely will continue after his presidency ends (whenever that
might be).

The always thoughtful Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics has
written a useful piece on his subject at the American Enterprise
Institute (“The (18)70s Show”) in which he illustrates another U.S.
political party transformation that took place 1870 to1900, and
which paralleled our national transition from an agrarian to an
industrial society. In that era, the agrarian Democratic Party
which had been unsympathetic to blacks, city dwellers and women
began its transformation into a party which championed workers
(a transformation, I might add, not fully realized until the New
Deal). At the same time, the abolitionist and pro-women’s suffrage
Republican Party, as the nation retreated from Reconstruction in
the South, increasingly identified with the new industrial
establishment.

The post-Civil War era and extended depression beginning with
the Panic of 1873 are given as catalysts --- although, I note, in 1859,
the pre-presidential (but so often prescient) Abraham Lincoln saw a
political transformation coming when he wrote in a letter citing
the reversal of political principles of the “party of Jefferson” and
the “party of Hamilton.” Trende asserts that the political parties
in the late 19th century, and today, adjusted to the changing tensions
felt by voters.

A more detailed and longer term account of U,S. political party
transformations has just been published by my friend Michael
Barone in his excellent new book How Political Parties Change 
(And How They Don’t). Barone has been for some time an
incomparable political demographic commentator. In his new book,
and in an article in Washington Examiner Magazine (“The perils of
downscale political parties”), he makes a persuasive case not
only for the various transformations, but also of their frequent
resilience:

“.....(Franklin) Roosevelt’s downscale Democrats did win five
straight presidential elections.”


It seems to me that many opponents of Donald Trump think that
if he went away, political parties --- particularly the Republican
Party ---would revert to their old selves. An underlying message
of Barone and Trende (with which I concur) is that the changes
are irreversible --- until the next transformations (which could
take decades). Trump, Sanders and Warren are the faces of their
parties today, but new personalities, I think, will emerge soon
enough to speak to most of the same voters of their respective
parties.

Barone also makes the interesting point of the parallels between
the changes in the two major U.S. parties, and what’s going on just
now in the United Kingdom where Boris Johnson is taking his
Conservative Party to more working class voters, and the Labour
Party leader is taking his party more sharply to the left.

That election is only four weeks away, and thus might be worth
special attention from those of us on this side of the big old Pond.


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

Monday, November 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Impeachment Polling

There are now new kinds of polls, impeachment polls, for 2020. 
But like national polls for president, they are basically flawed.

First, historically and now, impeachment is political, not judicial.

Members of Congress in 1868 and 1998 were primarily politically
motivated to impeach (indict) Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton,
but U.S. senators in both cases were unwilling, based on the
charges, to take the draconian action of removing (convicting) a
president. In both cases, there were valid issues (such as Clinton’s
perjury), but none that the senators felt reached a level justifying
removal from office. So far, this circumstance seems applicable in
2019 as the U.S. house considers another impeachment.

In the only vote taken so far, one to formalize the U.S. house
impeachment inquiries, the vote was along nearly pure partisan
lines. Nor has any evidence yet been brought out publicly that
unequivocably justifies impeachment --- especially because the
“inquiries” to date have been secret and partisan (unlike in 1998
when members of both parties participated).

Donald Trump is a controversial figure who has disrupted
conventional notions of the presidency. He is loved and hated.
I have previously pointed out that it is entirely legitimate to
dislike and oppose him, and to wish to replace him with another
person. The way to do it is to vote him out of office in an election.
But to do so by impeachment on the eve of the next national
election using secret inquiries, unnamed “whistleblowers,” and
ambiguous evidence --- and without widespread voter support ---
is simply as attempt to conduct a presidential election with only
a few hundred members of the national legislature.

The Democratic leaders in the U.S. house fully know, while
they do have the votes to impeach (indict) because they have a
majority in their body, they do not have the necessary 67 votes,
nor even a majority, in the U.S. senate to convict (remove). The
only reasonable conclusion from this is that the Democrats are
simply acting out a very partisan political scheme.

Which brings me to the impeachment polls. The national
presidential polls only reflect  the popular vote of all the
states which include California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts,
and other large states with big Democratic majorities. They do
not reflect the electoral college state votes which are the actual
election. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost
the election.  In 2019, national presidential and impeachment
polls mostly show Mr. Trump behind, but polls in the competitive
states show the opposite. Furthermore, by coming so close to the
2020 election, the two kinds of polls, in reality, have merged into
one --- in short, they reflect whom the electorate currently thinks
they would vote for --- and not, I would suggest, the merits of
impeachment. Furthermore, many observers suggest that the
partisan impeachment process actually helps the president
politically with voters.

Not only that, the current impeachment process is having the
unintended consequence of distracting Democrats from their
own presidential nomination contest at a critical time. The many
serious candidates find themselves upstaged daily by sensational
impeachment headlines. This could contribute to the upcoming
primaries and caucuses failing to produce a Democratic nominee
before the party convention in late July --- leaving Democrats only
three months to raise enough money, heal convention residual
bitterness, and conduct an effective campaign against the
Republican incumbent.

I have argued that President Trump’s re-election has been far
from certain. Yes, economic and international conditions ahead
will play their part. Of course, Democrats have their divisions,
and must decide whether to go to the electorate with a center
left or much further left nominee. But why should that party
tie its own hands with a perceived partisan process that risks so
much backlash from those key voters who are genuinely
undecided or independent?

At the very least, misleading polls do not justify this dubious
political risk. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it correctly
only a few months ago when she stated explicitly that
impeachment is not good for her party nor for the country. She
is now being pressured by radical colleagues to proceed with
impeachment --- although it might result in the loss of her
party's U.S. house majority.

As we all learned in 2016, the Democrats can give away an
election they are supposed to win.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Brexit Breakhrough?

With the announcement of the British Labour Party leader that his
members of parliament will support Prime Minister Boris Johnon’s
effort to hold a new national election in early December, the long
and bitter battle over Brexit (U.K. withdrawal from the European
Union) appears to be getting closer to a conclusion.

The parliament has just voted to adopt a December 12 election
date. If confirmed by the House of Lords, as expected, it will be set
Johnson’s governing Conservative (Tory) Party against not only
the Labour Party, but also several smaller parties, including the
Liberal Democratic Party, the new Brexit Party, Scottish National
Party, Irish Union Party and the Green Party. No party currently
has a majority  in the parliament.

Delays in implementing Brexit following a national plebiscite to
leave the EU brought down Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May,
and it appeared that he would also fail until, at the last minute, he
brokered a deal with a parliamentary majority that would set an
orderly Brexit withdrawal acceptable also to the EU.

With only five weeks to campaign, British national elections are
much shorter than U.S. ones, and with so many parties the outcome
is uncertain. Although a controversial figure, compared by many to
Donald Trump, Johnson’s stubborn efforts to complete Brexit
made him increasingly popular with the British electorate. Current
polls indicate Tories have a double digit lead over Labour, its main
opposition.

However, the Liberal Democrats, an anti-Brexit party, seek to make
gains on December 12 primarily at the expense of both Labour
and the Conservatives. Nigel Farage’s hardline Brexit Party might
take away Tory votes. How Ulster (the U.K. part of Ireland) will vote
this time is uncertain. Wales and most of England outside the largest
cities likely will vote Tory, and the urban areas likely will back
Labour. The leader of the latter promises a “radical” campaign
to take U.K. politics to the left, possibly bringing back wavering
Labour voters. Scottish Nationlists could take away otherwise
Labour seats. Finally, there are Green Party voters. They could
be part of a parliamentary leftist coalition with Labour, Liberal
Democrat and Scottish Nationalists.

Polling at 35%, the Tory lead over Labour (25%), Liberal
Democrats (18%), Brexit Party (12%) and Greens (4%) does not
translate necessarily into a majority of seats in the British
parliament. “Snap” elections, especially just before Christmas
in December, are notoriously unpredictable. 

In 1945, just as Allied victory over Nazi Germany was to take
place, British voters rejected Boris Johnson’s political hero
Winston Churchill (who had led them so eloquently through the
war) and made socialist Clement Attlee of the Labour Party
prime minister.

Boris Johnson has seemed to accomplish the impossible by
crafting a last-minute Brexit deal and then getting a petulant
parliament to agree to a new election just before Christmas. Yet
these accomplishments pale before his challenge of convincing
the U.K.electorate to give him a majority of seats so that he can
finish the Brexit job.

In fact, if Johnson loses, and the Labour leader becomes prime
minister, Brexit would likely be scrapped, and the U.K. could
return to a controversial socialist agenda as it did in 1945.

We have only seen Acts One and Two of this current British
eccentric political melodrama. Act Three might even be more
bizarre.


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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Oh? Canada!

Too many Americans have the bad habit of either ignoring or
taking for granted our neighbor to the north, Canada.

Many are unaware that Canada is our largest foreign trade
partner, or that Canadians have contributed so much to our
U.S. cultural life in popular and classical music; actors in our
theater, films and on television; artists and performers in the
visual and dance arts.

Canada historically, once we broke off from Great Britain,
became one of our most dependable allies in two world wars,
Korea, Viet Nam, and various peacekeeping efforts around
the world.

The longest (and probably most peaceful) border in the world
between two nations is between the U.S. and Canada.

Canada is thus vital to the economy, culture and security of
the U.S.

The Canadians just held their national elections, and their
charismatic and controversial young prime minister was
returned to office (he was first elected in 2015), but his Liberal
Party no longer has a majority in the Canadian parliament.

Queen Elizabeth II is the titular head of state in Canada which
is completely independent. Canada, formerly a colony of Great
Britain, is now a member of the British Commonwealth of
Nations (made up of countries that were formerly colonies).
The queen appoints a governor-general who is chosen by the
Canadian government. All of the executive powers rest with
the prime minister who is chosen by the parliament.

Mr. Trudeau’s party just won about 15 seats less than a
parliamentary majority. He has just announced he will not try
to form a majority coalition, but will instead lead a minority
government. Fortunately for him, he can assemble often a
majority on legislation from other left of center parties which
won seats, but such a government can be a problematic one.
The second largest party, the Progressive Conservative Party
won more popular votes across Canada than did Trudeau’s
Liberal Party, but Canada, like the U.S., does not hold a popular
vote election to choose its executive leadership.

The concentration of Liberal voters is primarily in the eastern
provinces and Ontario, the largest province. Conservative voters
dominate the western provinces. In 2015, Mr. Trudeau’s party
also won Quebec, but in 2019, a nationalist Quebec party made a
dramatic increase in seats won --- at the expense of the Liberals.
This helped cost Mr. Trudeau his parliamentary majority.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are centrist parties,
center-left and center-right. Two other parties which won seats
are to the left of the Liberals (but will support Mr. Trudeau’s
election as prime minister). The issue for the Quebec party is
Quebec independence --- although it leans to the left, too. This
large and primarily French-speaking province is the reason
Canada is officially bi-lingual --- although outside of Quebec,
most Canadians speak primarily English.

The population of Canada is 38 million, but most of its citizens
live in a few large cities near the U.S. border. Ottawa is the
capital, but the largest cities are Toronto, Montreal and
Vancouver. It is the second largest nation on earth in area (after
Russia) but only the fifth largest in land mass (large parts of it
include bodies of water). Like the U.S., it has a notable
population of native peoples. It has substantial natural resources;
yet much of its land cannot be cultivated, and is located in cold
climates where few persons are likely to inhabit.

It was settled by the English and the French about 400 years ago.
In spite of its relatively small population, it has the 10th largest
economy in the world.

Recently, Mr. Trudeau and his government signed the North
American trade agreement, as did Mexico, at the initiative of
President Trump, but the U.S. Congress has yet to ratify it.
Although they have somewhat different political ideologies,
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump appear to get on well. President
Trump warmly congratulated Prime Minister Trudeau on his
recent re-election.

The destiny and well-being of the U.S. and Canada are vitally
linked, by language, location, economic and security interests.
Each has a pride of its own, but the larger nation has long
often undervalued the smaller nation, creating a certain
tension and resentment in the latter.

In the difficult global period likely ahead, when the U.S. will
need and rely on its friends more than ever before, an increased
interest in and greater appreciation for Canada might be a wise
investment.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Are We Waiting For?

My mantra for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination
contest a year before the election and three months before the
first primaries is “Wait for the voters.”

So far we have only speculative opinions from editorialists,
pundits and unreliable polls (the latter mostly have had small
samples and include “registered” voters instead of more
credible “likely” voters)

Looking at similar speculations in 2003, 2007, 2011and 2015
(each the year before the actual election).we see that most
editorialists,pundits and polls did not then successfully predict
the outcome of the race to nominate the challenger to the
incumbent (in the case of 2015 the identity of the GOP nominee).

This year, there are two early frontrunners, Joe Biden and
Elizabeth Warren, and a tenacious third serious candidate,
Bernie Sanders --- each of whom have a notable and loyal base.
In addition, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and
Kamala Harris now have bases of heir own. The other twelve
candidates, it needs also be said, have not yet been measured by
actual voters.

The punditry is now alleging that Mr. Biden is going down, and
Mrs. Warren is ascending. After a heart attack, Bernie Sanders
returned to the fray with the reported largest rally of all so far.
And, although he suspended his campaign  months ago, Michael
Bloomberg is dropping  hints of getting back in (that’s why
candidates say they are “suspending” their campaign instead of
saying they are “ending” it).

It is fair to say we are now past the “name recognition” stage of
the campaign. Media coverage, candidate campaigning and the
TV debates have put the identities of the candidates before at 
least the “activist” Democratic voters. There is no compelling
evidence, however, that the general Democratic voters, most of
those who will vote in the primaries beginning next February,
are yet paying much attention to the contest or have made up
their minds about whom to vote for.

It is fair to say, however, that most Democratic voters have
made up their minds that they very much want to defeat the
re-election of Donald Trump. This would suggest that
“electability” will be a primary concern for them next year.

I did note in previous columns that Elizabeth Warren was
suddenly attracting large crowds to her rallies, and that was  at
least a sign of her strength. But now Bernie Sanders is drawing
even larger crowds. (And so is Donald Trump.)

The two major political parties always have factions, and do
now, but in the present tense, the Democrats have the more
widespread divisions

What does it all mean?

I think it means: Wait for the voters.

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